Sometimes, my supervisor calls me a warrior princess after I get off a long phone call advocating on behalf of a client. Sometimes, I make exaggerated excited faces and silently cheer as my client successfully schedules their own appointment with a doctor for the first time. Sometimes, I spend the afternoon in the ER coaching a client through asking the doctor questions about how to re-insert their child’s feeding tube. Sometimes, I just sit and listen while a client tells me what they miss about their home country. Sometimes, I spend the day on the computer researching MediCal insurance policies, housing assistance programs, and childcare programs with language capacity to help connect my clients to resources they need.
Every day, I walk into the office, and I’m not sure what the day will hold. Maybe I’ll spend the morning scheduling transportation and interpretation for medical appointments or submitting low-income housing paperwork. Then, in the afternoon, I might be helping a client apply for disability benefits. Maybe I’ll spend the morning calmly reviewing case files, but spend the afternoon completing urgent phone call requests on sticky notes handed to me by my supervisor as she talks on the phone to a client in crisis. The all-encompassing skill I’ve learned at my internship so far is the need to be flexible and willing to play different roles according to the needs of each individual client.
In a prior blog post, I wrote about how IRC offers holistic programming to cater to the needs of each client as an individual. My clients have varying needs because the ethnic, language, cultural and educational backgrounds they come from dictate their transition to a new country.
I have one client who speaks English, has experience in security for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and is working on enrolling in community college classes. This client and I are working on helping him apply for jobs and become more confident in advocating for his daughter with special needs to receive services and quality medical care. For this client, I am a cheerleader and coach.
I have another client who does not speak English, is living in an area without other Afghans, and has no transportation and little awareness of or connection to local resources. This client is focused on getting a job to feed his large family and making sure his wife receives mental health treatment. For this client, I am a warrior princess making sure his wife receives timely care by calling insurance, medical providers, and mental health providers to get her authorizations, referrals, and appointments. I am a coach for phone calls to insurance and doctors as well as a cheerleader when those calls go well (see my last post!). I am also a listener when this client describes feelings of worry around his wife’s mental health and difficulty providing for his family.
As I get to know and work with different clients, I have learned to play a variety of roles to ensure that their needs are met, their thoughts are heard, and their progress and victories are celebrated. To be able to transition between these roles I have learned the importance of being flexible, multi-tasking, and becoming familiar with local resources and policy.
Unfortunately, social justice work can slip into the realm of grouping individuals into a singular “oppressed” category with disregard for their individual characteristics and try to “fix” all of their problems. The recognition of the various identities, strengths, and weaknesses of my clients allow me to think of them as individuals and serve in a variety of roles as a warrior princess, cheerleader, teacher and listener to assist them in achieving their goals.