As an American who has lived in four countries in the past six years, I know what it’s like to move around. I also know first-hand the value of finding a community when you move somewhere new. A supportive community isn’t just about offering advice – it’s also about listening and giving support, which is especially needed when you find yourself in a new place.
This summer, I found a community at Body & Soul. The opportunity to intern here while completing my master’s has been a wonderful chance to grow both personally and professionally, as I learnt about the impressive array of services provided here, met some of the most fantastic children, and saw first-hand the challenges people can face living day-to-day with HIV.
As the children’s programme management intern, I got to know children and their parents through our Tuesday service evenings. Every week families came in with smiles on their faces, ready to play and immerse themselves in the evening’s activities. But just like an iceberg, the external presentation of a person is not necessarily indicative of how they actually feel on the inside, particularly when things are tough. Many Body & Soul members face difficulties in their daily lives – mental illness, housing and money problems, unemployment, etc. Understanding this, I began to work on casework for our members as part of my internship.
Casework entailed writing grant applications and support letters for housing, disability benefits, computers and household items which our members urgently need for their daily living. Part of this involved talking to members and learning more about the challenges they face in their lives. This lens into their lives revealed to me the necessity of empathy when interacting with anyone you meet – you never know the real challenges people are confronting and living with every day.
The consequences of HIV are not limited to physical health – they also affect your ability to earn an income, look after your family, travel, and many more activities most people take for granted. At Body & Soul, I have learnt the importance of empathy in really sitting with someone in their experience and supporting them, as well as working to understand their experience and helping them to build resilience in the face of these challenges.
As I prepare to attend my last Tuesday service evening tonight, I admire the resilience of our members, many of whom have faced severe adversity and hardship but return every week with a smile and a kind word. This Friday I will return to the US, and I will take with me all that I learnt this summer at Body & Soul, especially the power of resilience in caring for family and self, and the power of community in supporting and enabling this.
If you would like to become an intern at Body & Soul, we’re now recruiting our next intake! Follow this link to find out more.