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Title Anti-Oppressive Practice Case-Study
Author Jaiwanda Patel
Key Concepts Oppression, Anti-oppressive Practice, Racism, Community Development

 

Essay

Introduction

This paper attempts to build a picture of the Highfields area and the communities that live there.  Also I have tried to illustrate how the Bangladeshi community suffer from oppression from other communities as well as the services.  I then demonstrate what I think I will be able to do for them and what I actually do to help them, and then evaluate the situation.  

A Case Study of Anti-Oppressive Practice

At present I am working at Medway School and Community Centre, which is situated in the Highfields area of Leicester.  Highfields is an inner city area, located to the east and south east of the city, and is made up of three wards, which are Spinney Hill, Wycliffe and Charnwood.  The area is largely a Victorian development with one council estate, which is the St Peters Estate developed in the 1960’s, consisting of tower blocks and maisonettes. It contains about 30,000 people who are from many religious and cultural backgrounds.  The largest area of Highfields falls in the Spinney Hill ward, which in the 1991 census revealed was made up of over 80% Black and Asian communities.  Unemployment rates within the area were 23.7%, which were higher than the city average of 13.8%.(Leicester City Council, Census:1991) 

I have lived in this area for over 30 years and in recent years, I have noticed that there has been an increase in the number of the Bangladeshi community moving in.  Where they have become extremely concentrated around the area of the Medway School and Community Centre.

‘The Bengali’s are slower than most other Asian communities to adapt to life in a western city.  Even after they have lived here for ten years, many’ ‘ are unaware of their rights as citizens, tenants and employees and do not make use of the state welfare provisions, largely because of their limited knowledge of the English language’.

(Wallis,1981:76)

It was for this precise reason that the Bangladeshi community needs to be a priority area especially when it concerns helping them access state welfare provisions.  Therefore I felt working closely with the community worker at Medway Community Centre who also felt strongly about the need to educate this community, I would be able to help them.

This particular area was chosen as a study because I strongly felt that I could physically do something to help improve the situation.  I felt that if I could empower and encourage certain users of the centre, more so members of the Bangladeshi community.  Then by educating and training them I felt I would be helping them to help other members of their own community to access facilities.  These facilities are important to access because they are needed by individuals in order to aid them in to improve their everyday life.

There were other areas within my field practice that I felt were being oppressive to certain members of the community.  One of these areas being the exclusion of members of the community who are physically disabled.

‘One element of anti-oppressive practice is to ensure that peoples rights are not violated’

(Dalrymple and Burke,1995:30)

This is because the access into the building was limited and did not include any routes in for people in wheelchairs, therefore their rights are violated.  The centre has plans to be revamped during the summer, however these plans still do not include access for the disabled.  I know that this is an area that needs to be addressed.  However I felt that I was not in a position to be able to challenge this situation, simply due to the time factor and my position within the centre.

Having worked closely with the community members for nearly four months now.  During which I have spent a great deal of time with them, which included being with them in an informal learning and social environment.  The social environment included cultural gatherings and shopping trips.  During advice sessions held at the Medway Bangladeshi Centre, I also had the opportunity to interpret in Hindi for a few of the Bangladeshi community members.  This was because the centre found it extremely difficult to locate anyone to interpret in Bengali.  I found this to be oppressive towards the Bangladeshi community because within a centre who’s sole purpose was to cater for the Bangladeshi community.  It was not fulfilling it purpose.  However, whilst interpreting for those few people who could understand Hindi I began to realise the problems faced by many of the Bangladeshi community.  Many of these problems were centred on the social services, which included issues concerning benefits, rents, legal matters and immigration.

‘Whoever we are we have rights.  There are those of us who may feel that our rights are denied-perhaps some more than others’.  (Dalrymple and Burke,1995:29)

I strongly agree with this statement whereby everyone has a right.  However, in the case of many of the Bangladeshi community, I felt that their rights were being taken away from them.  Unlike other Asian communities who speak Gujarati, Hindi and Punjabi, which were now more familiar to the services and easier to provide interpreters for, however the Bangladeshi community is under represented.  This is because many of the other Asian people have now been in this country since the early 60’s and are more established.  Many of these communities’ members have also found employment within the social services.  Therefore advice and information would be available in their language.  I felt that the Bangladeshi community or this ‘race’ was being made to feel inferior and vulnerable simply because of their language, cultural and religious backgrounds.  I have used the term ‘race’ to describe this group because

‘racial categorisation involves not only difference but also implies relations of superiority/inferiority.  This on the basis of racism’.

(Thompson,1993:18)

Whereby

‘Lorde (1984) defines racism as the: ‘belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance, manifest and implied’.

(Thompson,1993:61,quoted in Dominenelli,1989:392)

I felt that racism is the appropriate term to use in this case because I felt authorities were treating them less favourably then they do other communities.  By not providing them with Bengali speaking interpreters, the Bangladeshi community were not able to access information and facilities, which would help improve their lifestyles.

‘Most Bangladeshi people in this country have come from one district of Bangladesh-that is, the District of Sylhet’. (Wallis,1981:84)

Talking to one of the community leaders I found this statement to be true.  Majority of the Bangladeshi community do come from the Sylhet district of Bangladesh, which is mainly rural land.  Most of the community members have little formal education, which includes reading and writing in their own language. 

Looking at the structure of oppression developed by Thompson (1993) called the PCS model.  I can illustrate how oppression is occurring, because this model is used to ‘develop our understanding of discrimination and the oppression that arises from it’. (Thompson,1998:12).  It operates at three very separate levels, which are inter-related.  These levels being personal, cultural and structural ‘(hence the term PCS)’. (Thompson,1998:12).

‘Oppression itself is a powerful force.  On a personal level it can lead to demoralisation and lack of self-esteem, while at a structural level it can lead to denial of rights’.

(Dalrymple and Burke,1995:57)

This statement proves to be true because at the personal level the community is oppressing itself because not being able to access facilities they are not receiving the advice in maintaining their health, hygiene and environment.

At the cultural level oppression is coming from other communities because they feel that they are superior to them, due to the fact that they are more familiar with the services and maybe able to speak English, therefore demoralising the Bangladeshi community.

At the structural level, institutions such as schools, hospitals, social security offices, advice centres the list is endless do not provide a facility whereby individuals from the Bangladeshi community can access them, whereby denying them their rights. 

‘Oppression often involves disregarding the rights of an individual or group and thus a denial of citizenship’,’ degrading treatment of individuals or groups’.

(Thompson,1993:33)

I have used oppression to refer to the disregarding of rights, as well as the degrading of individuals.  

Having grown up with a community who had to constantly fight for their rights and to be treated equally, to those living in this country.  I can remember the struggle my community members were going through when they had appointments at the hospital, schools or even when they were out shopping.  In the late sixties and early seventies there were very few people from the ethnic minority, who were employed within the social services or even in the retail industry.  Therefore any contact the communities who spoke English as a second language was with people who only spoke English.  I remember having to interpret for my mother when going shopping, and even when we use to go to the doctors or dentists.  It was always a big task going anywhere, because she always had to take someone with her.  There were times when I use to go along with my mother and I remember that shop assistants or even attendants at the hospital would make fun of her or they would say something rude, thinking that we didn’t understand.  Then they would laugh or make a joke of it.  I don’t think that anyone should be put in that position, and when they are not able to fight back.  Therefore I believe that each individual has the right to access any facility available within this country, because it is his or her basic right to do so.  They shouldn’t have to rely on family and friends to help them.  In some cases family and friends are not available, therefore the person needing help in then isolated.  

Therefore I believe anti-oppressive practice is about a ‘process of change which leads from feeling powerless to powerful’. (Dalrymple and Burke,1995:52) I can see the change happening within my field practice, when it concerns the Bangladeshi community.  Medway School and Community Centre has been responsible for the running of the Medway Bangladeshi Centre since September 1999.  Since then the community worker at Medway has worked extremely hard to set up the project and get it running.  The aim of the project is to cater for the needs of the Bangladeshi community.

There were times when other members of the community who were not Bangladeshi, wanting to use the facilities, approached us.  I didn’t feel comfortable refusing them the facility, because it goes against everything I have learnt, and everything I believe in about anti oppressive practice being inclusive and not exclusive.  I had to refuse other community members the use of the facility because the project is solely for the use of the Bangladeshi community.  The people wanting to use the facilities at Bangladeshi centre were offered similar facilities at Medway community centre.

The six-week communities interpreters course, was an introductory course that I help to set up, and which I felt would help community members to approach interpreting in a more professional manner.  Also it was set up to make local services such as schools, doctors, and advice centres recognise the skills people who speak two or more languages possess.  They had to be made aware that these skills needed to be rewarded if used.  However in this case my aim was to educate members of the community who will then be able to assist other members within their community, access facilities and ‘offering a common purpose: that of self-development’. (Jeffs and Smith,1990:74)

Posters advertising the course were put up in areas where I felt they would receive most publicity, such as the library, doctor’s surgery, other community centres and religious institutions.  Therefore anyone wishing to take part did so voluntarily.  Medway Community Centre has many adult classes running throughout the year.   They have an area set away from the rest of the school, which then gives the learner a less formal feel.  Therefore would help encourage more adults to take part.

Within the context of the course there were sessions set out to understand equal opportunities, the importance of confidentiality, understanding multi agency work and the importance of team working.

 ‘Central to the informal educational process is the ability to develop an appreciation of the cultures encountered and the ways in which interventions may be understood’.

(Jeffs and Smith,1990:134)

These sessions I felt gave the learner the opportunity to understand religions, cultures and backgrounds of other people.

In particular setting up this course helped me to demonstrate my ability to apply my work as a youth and community worker.  Together with a colleague from university, we facilitated the session on equal opportunity and confidentiality.  We had the opportunity to challenge people’s feelings about gay and lesbian people.  The students on the course had very strong links with their religion and culture.  Therefore they used these links to portray negative feelings about gay and lesbian people.  However during the session both my colleague and myself realised that it was more a case of homophobia, which is the ‘fear’ of same sex relations.  They had never had any contact with anyone that was gay, yet they spoke in way, which gave me the impression of such hatred.  It was quite apparent that we were not going to change how they think about gay and lesbian people, but we were able to make them stop and think about the oppression felt by these people.  This was because most of them had been oppressed in one form or another, also they realised that in order for them to be professionals in this field then they must be non judgemental towards others.

Evaluating the whole study I feel that I was right in organising the community interpreters course.  This is because I have helped some members of the Bangladeshi community to find employment within the interpreting field.  There are two members who attended the course and are now employed by the Medway Bangladeshi Centre as interpreters during advice sessions and as interpreters for teachers who find it difficult in communicating with parents who speak no English.  There is one person who has a Diploma from Bangladesh and this course has prompted him to take a higher interpreting course, which involves translating and being able to read and write in the language you are going to be translating in.

In conclusion I feel that I have able to help this community because there are obvious signs from the community members that they are getting their needs met and that they are beginning to develop and move forward.  This is because they are beginning to use the facilities provided for them and they are beginning to want other things to help them move forward, such as computing and further English courses.

I have also gained a great deal of learning from being with this community and the multiple oppressions they are faced with.

© Jaiwanda Patel & Student Youth Work Online 2001

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