Ethnic minority social workers face limited placement options

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 11:16pm

We are a group of local ethnic minority social workers. It was not easy studying to become a social worker; we can speak and understand Chinese but lack reading and writing skills. Although English is the medium of instruction in tertiary institutions, teachers and our peers usually spoke Cantonese during teaching and discussions in the classroom.

Most institutions have English as a compulsory subject, but there isn’t one that provides a Chinese class for local ethnic minority students to improve their grasp of the language. Despite the challenges, we persevered.

As Hongkongers born and raised, we want to serve different people with needs in the city, an aspiration shared by everyone who wants to become a social worker.

Yet when we get involved with mainstream social services, we realise that even though our speaking and listening skills allow us to communicate fluently with our service users, our involvement is limited by administrative documents and various forms that are in Chinese. This greatly limits our placement options as well as our job opportunities after graduation.

We wanted to communicate all this to candidates for the Legislative Council election at an election forum on August 29, organised by the Hong Kong Social Workers Association. However, although the organiser had told the candidates there would be ethnic minorities participating in the forum, most of them still refused to speak English. One even said, “If I speak in English, people won’t understand me, I will have to repeat again in Chinese. It’s pointless.”

Hong Kong is a Chinese-majority society, so it’s understandable that service providers should have reasonable Chinese skills. But Hong Kong is not a Chinese-only society, and not every non-Chinese person can communicate fluently in Chinese, because of the flawed education system.

What are ethnic minority residents with Hong Kong identity cards who need help supposed to do? Should they just accept that NGOs and other organisations will be no of use to them, because the forms they have to fill in are all in Chinese or because the community and care workers speak little or no English?

We hope the new legislator in the social welfare functional constituency will lead by example and show respect for local ethnic minorities.

Arif Abbas, Jeffrey Andrews, Sadia Bibi, Ansah Malik