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Social Work’s African Outreach Yields Results

The ‘New Africa’: ‘There Is a Vision and Sense of Possibility That Is Inspirational’

“You are actually changing futures and I would like to see more social workers from America get involved.”

Social workers who have devoted their time and energy to helping the people of Africa overcome extreme poverty have seen their efforts rewarded, and say the philosophy of “help others help themselves” is being proven every day.

Gary Bailey, president of the International Federation of Social Workers and a former NASW president, is a member of the board of Makula Fund for Children, which provides assistance to Ugandan children who have lost one or both parents to an AIDS-related illness.

“My hopes for this continent are indeed very personal as an African American myself,” Bailey said. “I believe that the progress that has been made in so many of the African countries has been astounding given the small amount of time that some of them have been independent nations. The specter of apartheid in South Africa is still fresh in my mind.”

Esther Jones Langston, an NASW board member and professor emeritus at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said her first visit to South Africa in 1974 left her with a profound urge to take action. “The social worker in me said, ‘How can I become involved and make life better?’” she said. “My ancestry is there. When you look at the enormity of slavery and realize you were among those who survived, you realize it’s your time to give something back. I feel it’s my obligation to motivate others.”

Since her first visit, Langston has worked with several organizations in particular supporting educational opportunities for children in Kenyan villages.

Langston said she has learned that Africans want to help their neighbors and she believes social workers are ideally trained to educate people about methods and techniques to improve their lives.

“I love the work,” she said. “You are actually changing futures and I would like to see more social workers from America get involved there.”

SWAN initiative: NASW has taken several steps to assist social workers in Africa in recent months through its Social Workers Across Nations initiative.

NASW’s president, James J. Kelly, and the association’s Division for Human Rights and International Affairs, led by director Luisa Lopez, have been working with the Tanzania Social Workers Association, or TASWA, to revitalize the organization. At the invitation of the Tanzania Institute of Social Work, funded by the American International Health Alliance, Kelly and Lopez met with Tanzania social work officials twice in 2010. In March, NASW senior practice associate Amy Bess was in Tanzania following up on TASWA’s organizational self-assessment.

Kelly said the challenges facing Africa are numerous and systemic. “Nowhere in the world is advocacy and one-on-one assistance needed more than in most sub-Saharan African nations,” he said. “I hope social workers in the U.S. will continue to encourage opportunities for dialogue and professional interaction with our African colleagues, including teaching, research and faculty exchange.”

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