“Relapse is often part of the journey.”
Name: Natasha Quitak
Place of birth: London, England
Do: Social Worker at Cáritas
What’s your Ibiza story?
I spent almost all my childhood summers here, in a small finca high up in the San Juan hills. This was in the early seventies so you can imagine (or remember) the magic of the island back then. The landscape and the light of the Mediterranean got under my skin. I have always felt a pull towards the south and a curiosity about other countries and cultures.
I kept returning here as an adult, my partner fell in love with the island and in our late thirties we moved out for good.
Your parents worked in film and theatre. What made you decide to do something else other than the “family business”?
Apart from appearing in a few school plays (directed by my mum!), I was never drawn to the acting profession. I would visit them back stage and could appreciate the buzz of being part of something creative and the camaraderie of the theatre community. But I was only too aware of the lows: the months waiting for the phone to ring, the agony of not getting the part, the agony of getting it and doubting you would be good enough. My parents never pushed me and I was free to find my own way. I studied literature and languages as a gateway to travel and exploring other cultures and ended up working with asylum seekers and refugees.
Working for a charity isn’t what people usually think of when they consider working in Ibiza
When we moved here I had no idea what the employment prospects might be. I assumed there wouldn´t be any in my field (social work). I was in my late thirties and feeling broody: my life project at that point was to have a baby. I did fantasise about creating a hospice on the island, inspired by some palliative care work experience in the UK, but put it on hold. A few years after our daughter was born, I found myself volunteering for Cáritas and subsequently being offered work in their homeless program.
I still believe Ibiza would make a perfect place for an end of life initiative. I would love to be part of a care team, but I am not a leader or fundraiser by nature and it requires both in the initial stages. It may happen when the moment is right.
Tell us about a typical day at Cáritas
Together with a small team of social workers and volunteers, we run a day centre for people who are homeless. This could be someone sleeping on the streets, in a tent, car, cave or squat or they may have a roof over their heads but their housing is inadequate, unsafe or temporary. Together with the Albergue Municipal, we offer a space where they can take refuge, get food, a shower, clean clothes, information, guidance and emotional support. We offer access to free legal advice, employment support, adult education courses and training projects. Much of my day is either spent one-to-one with a client – listening, sign posting, motivating; liaising with other professionals and projects, or leading the social skills workshop. No two days are ever the same.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen at work?
I am no longer surprised by the fact that people can surprise me. They may turn up at our homeless project with nothing but the shirt on their back (at times, not even that), and the next thing you know they are sharing their insights into the importance of veganism or reminiscing about their experience as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.
I am still taken by surprise each time I come across someone who has slept rough, who may be hungry or cold or both and yet manages to greet you in the morning with a smile and a sense of humour.
I am surprised by people´s capacity for compassion and companionship. The fight for survival can be exhausting and all consuming when you are homeless and conflicts do arise, but there are also countless incidents of people helping each other out.
How do you stay motivated?
All of the above! I admit that I struggled at first: having worked with refugees – who were often traumatised but incredibly motivated and resourceful, it took me a while to get used to the painstakingly slow pace of change common amongst many who are homeless. They might have spent decades living on the street, perhaps coping with addictions and mental health issues. It can often feel like “one step forward, five steps back”. In time I came to appreciate that they are also extremely resourceful and resilient. I learnt to let go of the idea that I am responsible for what I might judge to be “the right way forward”; to notice and celebrate the small steps and accept that relapse is often part of the journey. I tell myself that if someone walks away from our project having felt seen and heard, that counts, that alone makes a difference. Having supportive colleagues to laugh with when things get stressful, sad or mad is also hugely helpful.
Where’s your favourite place in Ibiza to unwind?
For sheer take-your-breath-away beauty, a coastal walk around the Cala Aubarca side of the island. For a gentle sunset moment, the terrace beneath our house: fig and olive trees, the sound of the birds flying home.
What one thing would you change about the island?
Affordable housing for everyone.
Do you believe people are fundamentally good?
If I look at the mess we have made of the world, it would seem to suggest otherwise: we must be either bad or mad or both. There are and always have been shining examples of goodness, but they tend to be small flickers of light in the darkness.
I do believe in the potential for goodness in each of us. But it requires attention and care. It needs to be cultivated. As one of my favourite teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh would say, we have to water the seeds of goodness.
Are you a risk taker?
What might be experienced as highly dangerous for one person might fall well within the comfort zone for someone else. I felt fine travelling alone in Guatemala, volunteering in the shanty towns of Harare or opting for a home birth. I feel far from fine when I am asked to attend a meeting in Madrid and am convinced I have nothing to contribute or will be out of my depth. That feels far more risky than going up in the air in a paraglider.
I am stubborn by nature and if I set myself a goal, I am likely to see it through, even if it feels risky. But I don´t usually aim for anything desperately dangerous. The biggest risk: having a go at living together with my long-distance romance in the least romantic place imaginable – a grey, sad town in the Midlands. At the time, I was working with Bosnian refugees and the project happened to be there. Luckily it paid off: we are still together.
Natasha was thoughtfully chosen and photographed by Anne.