Convicted murderer, high gang affiliations, addiction, domestic violence charges, and theft. I have to admit, I was quite nervous. Still, Te Whakaora Tangata wanted me to interview some people who attend their organization. I had never conducted interviews before, let alone talked for an hour at length with Maori people. What could I say? What couldn’t I say? What would be taboo for me to bring up? Will I insult them? What do I need to know before going into this? These questions and about thirty more were cycling through my head.
For those who didn’t know, for the past 6 months I have been living in New Zealand, working with Maxim Institute. Maxim Institute is not the think tank where they come up with a bunch of ideas for a dirty magazine (sorry if that joke flew over your head), but rather a political think tank where we discuss policy and inform the leaders of the nation about issues that matter. Yeah, it’s been an interesting time. And for those who know me and are like, “Eric? You? Working at a political think tank? Yeah, okay. So what are you actually doing in NZ, common, you can tell me.” Ummm, I don’t know what to tell you. I have been.
I graduate on Thursday and reflecting on what I’ve done here has been bitter/sweet. The beginning of this post was describing the project that I have been working on for the past 4 months. Basically Maxim and Te Whakaora Tangata (an organization that works on the Marae (a sacred meeting place for Maori (the native people of NZ))) have partnered to bring their first placement together in the internships history. Mainly to best take advantage of my specific skills as a Social Worker. What can I say? I’m kindof a big deal.
The day that I applied to the Maxim Institute, they asked me what I was passionate about. I told them that I loved being on the ground floor, helping people in their place of need. TW saw this as an opportunity to do something that they have been meaning to do for some time. They asked me if I could go to the Marae and interview people who have used their services. The object was to hear them out. The opportunity to be heard is a very powerful thing. To be noticed, to feel loved, cared for, and heard…can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, as an organization, it is important to know that you are serving the people in the most effective and efficient way possible. This is done by the very popular and arduous process of research. I was to ask specific, and yet representative people questions about their past, present, and projected future through the work that TW has been doing in their lives. I was beyond excited. This was an opportunity for me to do what I have always wanted to do.
With my mentor Luke helping me through the process, I felt much more confident, as he has done this very thing in Germany 4 years ago. I knew from the start that the interviews would be incredibly helpful for the organization and for myself. I would gain knowledge and understanding about the people and culture, and TW would understand what they are doing well and maybe not so well.
Looking back on the experience now, I could not have been set up with a more perfect fit for my placement. This is Social Work. Helping people where they are at. Not in a cold office with a fluorescent light beating down on you, but on the streets, in their meeting places, in their homes, with their families, seeing the problems they’re facing, understanding their stories, and doing something about it. Social Work requires action, and I feel that my placement allowed me to know more about what that looks like. Now I am left with the question: “So what? What will you do about it?” Honestly, I can’t wait to answer that call, and this placement has given me the confidence to act.
This project was my baby, and tomorrow I present it to the organization, Maxim as well as the Lion Trust. I am excited and hopeful that the results will spur further action to aid the people in the Manurewa area. From here, I go on to bigger and more challenging opportunities in Social Work.
I will continue to live in the Maxim Intern Residence that I’ve been living in, until November, when the new batch of interns move in. There I will be living with the guys that I will be flatting with for the coming years in NZ. I have to say that I am excited for the changes ahead. Change, historically for me, Eric Peterson, doesn’t usually hit me until about 1-2 weeks later. At least not the sad things. So whatever comes, let it come. I’m ready for you.