Book 📚 review by Katie at UoS.
Gulwali Passarlay, a young Afghan man, tells his tale of a dangerous and exhausting journey from war stricken Afghanistan to the UK. You would be mistaken for thinking that this book is just that; a fictitious tale. However, this account is very real. It is very real of not only Gulwali’s struggle, but also the struggles that a shocking amount of refugees/asylum seekers have faced, and continue to face every single day.
Gulwali was a very privileged young boy. He was the son of a Doctor, part of a loving family and had the most wonderful of relationships with his grandparents, especially his Grandfather. His life was suddenly turned upside down when his grand father and father were killed by US forces. After this the Taliban tried to recruit him and his brother to join the cause, trying to convince him to seek revenge for his fathers and grand fathers death, in the form of fighting the Holy war with them.
His mother feared for both their lives and knew the dangers they’d face if the Taliban had their wish. It is then she makes the brave and heart-breaking decision the send the twelve-year-old Gulwarli and his younger brother Hazrat away, with the hope they will find safety and solace away from the dangers of Afghanistan. From here on Gulwali recounts his what can only be described as a miracle journey, sometimes taking one-step forward, two steps back, but never losing faith or conviction in the task ahead. Gulwali is an amazing young man who has overcome such adversity. But his story is not the only one of its kind. Thousands of unaccompanied children are misplaced every year due to circumstances they can’t control. In 2018, 19 700 asylum seekers applying for asylum in the countries of the EU were considered to be unaccompanied minors. ( Eurostat, newsrelease, 2019)
Gulwali is one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
There are countless things you can take from this book, and a lot of food for thought. Whether it is immigration issues, cultural differences, or lack of understanding when it comes to both. If you’re one of many who hasn’t really given these very relevant issues a second thought, then this book is a real eye opener.
One thing that really struck me while reading this is how Gulwali never lost his Muslim faith. For such a young boy, with no real guidance, just how did he manage to believe God was by his side?
Many others would reject the existence of a God if they endured what Gulwali had, but somehow he kept God with him and never once questioned whether he was really looking down on him. I find it amazing the comfort he found with his faith. Even when he went without food for days upon end, not knowing when his next bite would come, he fasted for Ramadan. It wasn’t a chore, much like when I had to give up chocolate for lent as a child, but something truly important to him.
“But I knew Allah was always with me. I prayed often, I talked to God, I found comfort in my faith.” (Passarlay, 2015)
According to GOV, 71.7% of children and family social workers employed by local authorities in England are White British. The Department of Education states 85% of children and family social workers are female. What does this mean for practice? How does a field dominated by white British women, cater to and for the needs of unaccompanied refugee children, more often that not, young boys?
To be successful social workers we need to be culturally sensitive, have a reservoir of knowledge, and must always be ready and willing to learn. I had the privilege to hear Gulwali Passarlay talk about this book, and he described his social workers in Kent as worse than the people smugglers he encountered. How on earth has this been allowed to happen? The very people put in place to safeguard and ensure Gulwali’s wellbeing let him down so massively. Gulwali suspects there was underlying racism that played a part in his treatment. To think that there is such attitudes of racism or prejudice in social work may be hard to believe, but is something that exists and should not be shyed away from.
We all can see how race tensions and racism is prevalent today in England. This suggests to me that there is something is lacking in education. It therefore is inevitable, that some of these attitudes may find themselves making their way into social work. Small they may be, they are still present.
First I think of England’s in particular attitude towards Religion specifically. England has slowly moved away from the church and has become a more secular society. We are a Christian country but only a small minority of Britons practice the religion they’ve been born into. This growing lack of importance to religion in this country might make us as social work dismiss service users religions and not see the importance of it. How do we address this? To me it suggests there needs to be more sensitivity when it come to religious beliefs and/or spirituality. It is important to remember how important religion and culture are to the people we may be working with. Especially as more and more unaccompanied children are coming into the UK from countries where religion is embedded into culture. For some it can the only thing they have brought with them, much like Gulwarli.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”(Marx 1844)
Marx was a criticiser of religion, and believed religion was a veil when true happiness could not be found. However it is well known that people find comfort in religion, or turn to religion in times of great difficulty. People look for coping mechanisms and strength in hard times. Some find this in religion (Pargament’s Theory of religious coping). Gulwali certainly did, and it helped him fight to make his way to the UK.
The theory of intersectionality (Kimberlé Crenshaw 1989) suggests people have multiple identities that may overlap and face discrimination ie, race, religion, class, sexuality etc, and should be looked at as a whole rather than focusing on one characteristic. This more holistic way of looking at someone would help us to become better social workers. Not merely focusing on a child as just a child, but as a whole person with their own mind, thoughts and feelings. This theory certainly would help us to recognise the different components of a child regarding religion and help us to cater for the child in a competent and anti-oppressive way.
The Professional Capabilities Framework mentions Values and Ethics, Diversity and equalities, and Rights and justice. Social workers should use this as a guide during practise and aim to achieve all principles. Diversity and equalities is the principle that comes to mind when I think of Gulwarli. If Gulwarli’s social workers possessed these principles, maybe he wouldn’t have had the experience he did hen he came over to the UK.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Article 18, UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)
Social work is linked directly to this article, as one of the main roles is to fight for people’s freedoms and social justice. This again falls under the principles of the PCF, and within our code of ethics where discrimination against people with different cultures, religious beliefs etc should be fought against.
Respect and understanding towards service users different religions and cultural norms is massively important in being able to build relationships. Seeing someone as a whole person rather than what you can merely see.
I think more learning towards sensitivity and understanding needs to be taught, to make social workers more equipt and competent. We need to be able to build relationships, trust and understanding with our service users, and not inhibit them because of our own beliefs or lack there of. It is inevitable that some social workers may have grown up with certain prejudices to individuals regarding religion, race, class etc. Especially when the vast majority of British social workers are of caucasian ethnicity, and may not have a deep understanding of the privilege that they have along with the discrimination that others may experience due to their religions. Although none of these have a place in Social work it is important to challenge the prejudices and try to minimise the complications for future practice.
Eurostat, news release (2019) Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/9751525/3-26042019-BP-EN.pdf/291c8e87-45b5-4108-920d-7d702c1d6990
Gulwarli Passarlay (2015) The Lightless Sky: London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books
GOV.UK (2019) Ethnicity Facts and Figures: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/social-workers-for-children-and-families/latest
Department for Education (2018) Experimental statistics: Children and family social work workforce in England, year ending 30 September 2017: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/681546/SFR09-2018_Main_Text.pdf
Karl Marx (1843) A contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Oxford University Press 1970
Kimberle Crenshaw (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and anti-racist politics: University of Chicago Legal Forum
UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 18