Dr Kathomi Gatwiri joins the latest episode of the SCU Buzz podcast offering her comprehensive guidance on mentally separating work from home, the rise of trauma awareness, the right way to teach children about racism, and exploring micro racial aggressions.
Kathomi is an award-winning researcher and senior lecturer teaching Social Work and Community Welfare at Southern Cross University. In 2017, Kathomi was named ‘Young Kenyan of the Year,” and in 2019 was awarded the ‘Early Career Researcher’ award for her excellence in research on childbirth trauma amongst African women.
Social work is a challenging profession that can impact personal life if social workers don’t take time to focus on their well-being. Kathomi offers her advice for coping with the weight of the complex yet rewarding job, particularly for those who use lived experiences to teach.
“I'm very intentional with my story. I don't like to share that which can be held back by people who have not earned the right to hear that story. By containing the boundaries of my personal life, I am able to have a place to go to where no one else has entered, to relax and have some peace,” shared Kathomi.
The value of 'saying no' is another powerful tool that Kathomi teaches to her students, who have said that it has been one of the most valuable takeaways from her class.
“I say no a lot and I really encourage people to say no more often,” Kathomi said.
“A lot of people don't seem to realise how much headspace you regain just by being in alignment with the energy that feeds you, builds you, and honours you, rather than spending your energy just trying to fit in.”
“As social workers, you will be spread so thin, so learn to say no compassionately because when you are not tired and overextended, you will be a better social worker for it,” she said on the SCU Buzz Podcast.
Kathomi also explores the contours of teaching about racism. Education is a powerful tool for creating change, and Kathomi elaborates on how to talk to our students and children about racism and cultural safety appropriately.
First, she said; “Avoid colour-blind approaches and the idea of ‘I don't see colour.’ It is not possible for children not to see colour, in fact, it's one of the first things we notice about people. So effectively, when we keep saying we don't see colour, what we are saying is that we are actually silencing conversations about racial difference when racial differences actually impact people's experiences in such a significant way,” Kathomi explained.
“Teach children to see colour, but teach them also that when you do, it should not dictate how you treat that person,” she said. This can be applied to other experiences of gender or disability. Don’t teach children to ignore or look away from those intersections, but rather to bear witness to bodies that are different to theirs. Children are incredible learners and they navigate these complex conversations with more compassion and understanding than we give them credit for.
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