December 14, 2015

Day 787 – Back to work

Today is the day, back to work and not just any work, work that I’m passionate about. It’s been over two years since I worked with women and so today is a big day. I’ve always loved supporting women and I would have carried on in my job back home but I wanted and needed a break. Having been a independent domestic violence advocate for three years, I wanted to fulfill my dreams.  I have many passions whether it is supporting women, the homeless or working with children. My list seems to ever be increasing and so I try and do the best I can. Of course, I’m only too aware that I am not able to do everything. But I would rather reach out and help where and when I can. I don’t like to limit myself to one cause or organisation because there are so many areas that appeal to me. I love working and supporting children for instance and I know I always will. But for now, I will be working with women again and it’s great.

So whilst I have been in Australia now for several weeks, I had never heard of or visited Townsville. I mean unless you are making your way to see Magnetic Island, many backpackers don’t stop to explore this town. It isn’t a very big town and sure there isn’t heaps happening but it is a pretty cool town. It has a army base and a mining community. It has Castle Hill and the strand which is great to walk along. It is quite spread out so most people drive, yes there are buses but they are not great. I stumbled across this town because of my job. When I applied, I had no idea that Queensland was such a large state and essentially I needed to look up the postcode of a place and not solely rely on the word Queensland. I had thought, ah Queensland, that must mean the job is in Brisbance and of course I was wrong. I checked only after I was called to do a interview and my jaw dropped, Townsville is 17 hours north of Brisbane by road and 2 hours by plane.
There is a different mindset here which initially I wasn’t aware of. I mean, having spent over a month in Brisbane, which by far, is a developed, cosmopolitan city, Townsville is different. It is not only smaller geographically, it is also less developed. The attitudes here of men for instance and how they treat women. Without trying to generalise of course, but there certainly is a element of going back in time in terms of attitudes towards how women should or are treated. There is a chauvinistic element which is embedded in some parts of the town and this is partly due to the military base and the mining history. There is a old school aspect which has simply remained and continued to flourish. This, not surprisingly, has a serious impact on the level of domestic violence, sexual assault and childhood abuse amongst families.  Whilst I’ve travelled, worked and lived in some pretty old fashioned cities, it was a little surprising for me to find such a city in Australia, a first hand, developed nation.
Other than the mindset, the shocker for me was the weather.  It is unbelievable hot here and whilst it is winter back home in London, it is summer here and so temperatures reach 30 plus on a regular, daily base. The air is hot and dry and there is humidity in the air always. After it rains, the temperature drops a little but unless you are in air-con, chances are, you will melt. Walking around here is next to no especially around midday when it is perhaps the hottest time of the day. The other interesting and disappointing issue is, they don’t have siestas here which is a shame. Even in jobs that start early say construction, the working day simply ends earlier, there is no culture of a afternoon nap which is much needed in such temperatures. Instead, most people crank up their air-con in their cars or homes and stay cool. It would be great to get a afternoon nap in here as I did in Vietnam and Brazil. Makes a big difference to the working day.
My first day was interesting to say the least. Firstly because whilst I had applied for a homelessness worker position, I was being talked into considering a counselling role. Now, I hadn’t even considered this as I was almost certain I wouldn’t be able to obtain such a role. My background is social work not counselling, I have no qualifications or experience in counselling. However, despite this, I spoke to my manager here who planted the seed of becoming a counsellor. I didn’t need to give it much thought as I would love to be a counsellor and whilst I haven’t pursued this field prior to coming here, I would be more than happy to start now. Both my interview and background was enough for my workplace to deem me capable to work as a women’s health counsellor. I will also be trained and mentored during my stay here which is music to my hears. Whilst I would have been happy as a homelessness worker, I was thrilled to be counsellor. Here it was, my dream unfolding, to be a counsellor and to work in a women’s centre, supporting homeless women. I couldn’t ask for more and how ironic that I’m offered such an opportunity half way around the world, when I least expected it.
I was welcomed and introduced to a very warm and welcoming team. I met some staff members who are due to leave not because they were exhausted with the work but more so because they had other commitments.  Those staff that are continuing on have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to offer. I felt at ease and reassured that I would be fine, more than fine to work here and support women. Despite having applied and being granted a 12 month, I can only work for 6 months with one employer. So, the only not so great part is, my contract will only be until the end of June and of course I would love for it to be longer. When I applied, I didn’t think that I would even get such a opportunity or role, so I simply applied for a 12 month working holiday visa. Unfortunately though, as it is a working holiday, you are expected to take a holiday or travel around so employment is limited to 6 months. I searched for exceptions to this rule and there aren’t any. Least there are none that would permit me to work until October which is when I first entered the country. This is a pity and whilst today was my first day, I knew I would easily and happily stay longer.
Yes, there isn’t much happening in the city and many of the locals prefer other cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. But for me, in the same way that work as never been related to money, work is also not connected to where I am. It doesn’t bother me or more it is not the determining factor when I make a decision to stay and work. I’ve worked in Encarnacion, a city which again many backpackers pass through as they feel it has nothing to offer. I stayed however and worked there for 10 month and would have stayed longer with no problems. It is very different and no comparison to working in London but I loved it all the same because of my job. So, in the same way, I love my job and so I’m happy to live here as long as possible and I won’t let the city or people try and convince me otherwise. I follow my instincts and my gut and my reaction to this centre was yes, stay, stay and learn. I would be a idiot for passing such a great opportunity because the town is not deemed great.
My work, my role and the difference I can make is important. Also, the development and learning opportunities influence my decision. I will be supporting women everyday, empowering them and providing emotional and practical support. This is my passion, it always has been, this is the reason to get up each morning and go to work. My enthusiasm for supporting women will never disappear and certainly hasn’t reduced. In fact, I feel it to be a privilege to support women who trust me and other workers here with their stories, with their worries and vulnerabilities.  I sometimes feel very humbled and moved by women’s openness and honesty. I mean, sure I may be a counsellor but I’m another professional, from a different country, culture and background. How these women find the strength to overload their stories never fails to amaze me. It takes great courage for them to seek support and confidence to share their experiences. If women can do some much, I feel it is my job to do everything and more to ensure they are supported, heard, empowered and safe. I remember key friends and professionals who helped shape and change my life and I have previous clients that thanked me for my work. So this is the beginning of another journey, another period in my life where I will both learn a great deal but also give back to my clients and the centre here.
I miss my team back home. My team back home was not only a team but my family. When you work everyday 10am to 6pm you see your team everyday, you see them happy, anger and at times stressed. You pull together as a family and work to ensure the client’s needs are met. My team had my back and I know that I lasted as long as I did because my team. I have a new team here, a new family here and I know it will be different and it will take time to build such relationships but I’m ready to invest. It is after all the people that make great moments. Who I work with has always been an important factor to consider and influenced where I have stayed and worked for. I need to be supported, empowered and heard to ensure I can work effectively and do the best for my clients. Whilst I miss my team heaps and it breaks my heart that I haven’t seen them in over two years, I know they are there and I know they are well. So without dwelling too much on the past, today I focused on my new role, team, town and thought about all the great things and perhaps not so great things that I will encounter. No matter how this ends, I know it was a good decision to come here and start this journey, I would rather open myself to such possibilities then forever be wondering what if? So again, I feel blessed, almost lucky that I got this position and I will forever be grateful for this new journey.