When I was informed by the Columbia School of Social Work that I would be interning at MRHS back in September, I was excited because I have worked with the aging population for a short period of time before, but I was also nervous because this meant that it would be for the full school year! What could a 26-year-old woman from Senegal bring to this exotic environment? My short time at the Health Advocates for Older People in the Upper East Side did not prepare me enough for the appealing population I would find here, ranging from Holocaust survivors to children form the Great Depression era.
Before I started here, I was afraid that I would not be able to relate to the clients I would be working with due to several reasons, such age differences, cultural and social backgrounds; but now, I am pleased to say that none of my fears became true. I learned that people’s characters and experiences make them but not necessarily their age and the next thing I knew, I fell in love with the clients I provided direct services for. My caseload included a lovely 100-year old woman, who is the sweetest person you will ever meet and a charming couple in their 90s. I even fell in love with the volunteers and those who simply enjoyed hanging out in the office. I learned that I did not need to be in their age range to relate to them. I was surprised when I learned that I had a lot in common with some people I met.
During my time here, I had the opportunity to learn and grow so much as a person and an aspiring social worker. I have formed great relationships with my clients who felt comfortable sharing a great part of their lives with me, such as what it was like living in the early 1900s. I am a person who likes adventure and who is very attracted to history and life in the past, and at MRHS, the people I met took me through that adventure. This was something I have always longed for but never had the luck to experience before, not even with my own grandparents who never confided in me or tell me exciting stories about growing up, getting married and having children in rural Senegal, all because of cultural reasons. The Senegalese culture is a somewhat conservative one and communication between elders and younger people is very limited. Whereas here, I could talk about anything; some topics made me feel uncomfortable but I am glad there were no barriers between my clients or shall I say my new friends and I.
I would like to thank the entire MRHS staff and all of the residents of the Morningside Gardens for allowing me this valuable experience. I very much enjoyed running the Supper group, the Low Vision group, part of the Memory Tree, and creating and running the clutter workshop. I also enjoyed helping residents with small tasks such as making phone calls, paying bills or escorting them to their doctor’s appointments or to the supermarket; anything that lifted some of their burden.
I had goals when I started working here and all of them were met because MRHS is very supportive and willing to let its interns experiment and bring in new ideas. I also had great supervision which gave me good direction in the goals I was working towards.
Coming to MRHS was something I looked forward to every morning because I knew that at the end of the day, I would walk out with a sense of fulfillment. I am glad I got to learn how exciting it is to work with the senior population. This is an experience I will never forget and I know the skills I acquired along the way will guide me through my career. I am proud to say that Columbia made the right decision when they placed me at MRHS.
Aissata Kebe, Social Work Intern, Columbia University School of Social Work