by Marianne Zeh
When I started the bachelor's program in 2007, my answer to the question of "why I want to study social work" was pretty much what the majority of social work students were responding: "I want to help people." Nine years later, I know that this is kind of a condescending approach, if you take it literally. Who am I to tell people how to live their lives? People know best what they want from life, what values they are striving for, and what specific behavior is standing in their way of living those values. People are full of resources and skills that are helping them to manage their life daily and that got them through challenging circumstances in the past.
As a social worker, I respect the autonomy of the person, acknowledge opinions and values, affirm resources, and strengthen self-esteem. I support the development of discrepancy and the confidence in change. I accompany people on their way of change - a journey that takes patience, strength and courage. People who are taking on that challenge have my honest admiration. I am honored to be at their side, providing the frame and the setting, reflecting and affirming as much as possible, asking questions if necessary, and providing information if needed.
Social work is not just any job. Social work entails a certain view of human beings and what world we want to live in. Certainly, social work is also framed through laws, institutions, and control mechanisms, which makes the job often more complicated, especially if we work in structures that are in conflict with our ideals. Social work is, therefore, also political - at least, it should be. Every person has the right to dignity, respect, autonomy, and freedom. Naturally, we try to preserve those principles in our daily work. But it is also our mandate to support and develop a society where structures that undermine those principles are openly questioned and tackled. If the state fails to provide safety and basic rights are threatened, social work must speak out.
Social work and human rights are inseparably linked. During my studies, my professors kept referring to the saying that social workers are constantly working to make themselves redundant. I am realistic enough to know that, unfortunately, we will never reach that point. Nevertheless, I will never stop trying to make the world a better place. My personal motivation for the profession of social work is the protection of human rights.
For me, it doesn't matter which specific field I am working for or on which level, whether it is the micro level of individual and family counseling, the mezzo level of community work, or the macro level of society, nationally or internationally. Ultimately, as a social worker, I am committed to social development and social justice. I am lucky to have found a profession where I can work to promote principles and ideals that I truly believe in and am living for.
Marianne Zeh received her MA degree in International Criminology from the University of Hamburg (2014), Germany, and a BA degree in Social Work from the Ernst-Abbe University of Applied Sciences Jena (2011), Germany, She is currently working for an NGO in Karlsruhe, Germany, in the field of psychosocial counseling for sentenced persons and people at risk.