Before I started working with vulnerable people I always thought the phrase ‘the good fight’ was a pretty egotistical statement. I felt that those in the charity sector were just promoting themselves. But when I started the work myself I realised that it really is a fight, a very tough one.
I was working in one of South East Asia’s most notorious ghettos for a children’s organisation. Some people who didn’t ask many questions about my work presumed I was just playing with kids all day and had a fairly easy job. But when you work with some of the worlds most vulnerable children, there are other people who want to work with them too, people you don’t want to meet. When some of the children you work with legally don’t exist, likethe refugeesin Malaysia, no one wants to provide funding. When the funding doesn’t come close to reflecting the scale of the problem you can easily work 7 day weeks, shifts can be between 10 and 16 hours.
Some of the children’s stories can take a serious emotional toll on your physically drained body. You endeavour despite rumours of organised crime wanting you gone. You endeavour despite a sever lack of funds. You endeavour when your pay is less than half of what you could earn elsewhere. You endeavour because you love the children and had no idea it was so bad until you’re there.
The work just keeps coming. I was called on my holiday because a group of refugee children had just lost their food supply. I was called late at night by teenagers desperate to talk. After one youth managed to get my number it spread quickly and I needed to change my sim card. Friendships became strained and relationships were almost impossible to maintain. One girl got so fed up she hid my phone and shouted ‘the children can wait!
I often conducted outreach until the early hours in the morning and walked streets that were littered with needles and lined with sex workers. I developed a sleeping problem and needed sleeping pills to manage a few hours a night. Some other people keeping up ‘the good fight’ needed much more than sleeping pills to keep going.
Being so tired, so emotionally drained and so committed to the work, the one thing that hit everyone hardest were the lost cases. I lost a case of a young rape victim who remained with her abuser. I lost the case of a group of children living in an abusive home. I lost cases of teenagers we managed to get off the streets who almost all returned to a life of drugs and crime. These cases will never be forgotten those children will never be forgotten.
One day a man brought his son to my centre and said ‘I hope he grows up to be like you’. I thought to myself, oh God I really hope not I’m becoming a wreck, soon after I resigned. Emotionally empty, physically drained, over worked, battered and bruised ‘the good fight’ is sadly an all too apt saying.