International Social Work is the Theme of "Community Day" at Graduate School of Social Work

Date: December 06, 2013
Left to right: Rebecca Davis, Ph.D., Dean Steven Huberman, Ph.D., Alberto Godenzi, Ph.D., Susan Mapp, Ph.D., Allison Bobick, MSW, LCSW, and Robin Mama, Ph.D.
Left to right: Rebecca Davis, Ph.D., Dean Steven Huberman, Ph.D., Alberto Godenzi, Ph.D., Susan Mapp, Ph.D., Allison Bobick, MSW, LCSW, and Robin Mama, Ph.D.
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New York, N.Y. – The 40 second clip from “Rescue in the Philippines,” made for public television, previewed a rescue mission of 1,200 European Jews in 1939 by Philippine President Manuel Quezon.  The moving clip was then followed by a recent NBC Nightly News segment showing the Israel Defense Force working to save lives at an emergency hospital the IDF repaired in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which has left thousands of people dead, displaced and missing. 

“This is international social work at its best,” said Steven Huberman, Ph.D., dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, as he opened the School’s Fall 2013 Community Day,  “Challenges and Critical Issues Facing the International Social Work Community.” “That’s what this year’s Community Day is all about – rescue and relief for the world’s most at risk populations,” Dr. Huberman said.

The 1939 rescue mission by President Quezon later became the subject of a full-length feature documentary that was shown at the United Nations just hours before Haiyan arrived, the dean told the audience of approximately 200 social work students, faculty and staff.

That’s how Community Day went this fall – a myriad of historical connections, case studies and facts, many troubling, which forced the audience to ponder weighty issues facing the community, such as international child protection, human rights, human trafficking, torture, and the global agenda.

Keynote speaker Alberto Godenzi, Ph.D., dean of Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, addressed why social workers needed to be “globally literate” even if they never plan to leave New York City, and outlined three essential components for attaining global literacy: global awareness, versatility with language, and “cultural humility.”

Dr. Godenzi urged students to read a variety of media sources, in different languages, including media that portray non-Western perspectives, in order to see different points of view. He stressed that cultural humility for a social worker was most important.

“You really have to put the time and effort in to know people of other cultures,” he said. “You [strive to] celebrate diversity, but always with addressing injustices. That, in social work, is extremely important.” 

Touro MSW student Veronica Olivares, who traveled to Colombia last summer to assist kids ranging in age from 10 to 21, shared her experiences working with a non-profit theater group, ImaginAction, which runs innovative workshops to promote healing in communities affected by violence. She participated in a 10-day program, with the help of Touro, in the small town of Palomino.

According to ImaginAction, the local communities at Palomino have long suffered from armed conflict, and continue to endure a human rights crisis, regularly confronting forced displacement, loss of cultural identity, racial discrimination, lack of environmental protection and abandonment by institutions of government.

In her presentation, Ms. Olivares described how she and her colleagues participated in a skit produced and directed by the children about their feelings towards their river, which they felt was being ruined by garbage and contamination by a local company and making it impossible for them to drink from the river or play in it. 

“The children of this community have a connection with the earth,” she said.  “Their skit shows the respect and connection the children have with their land, with the nature of everything around them.”

Ms. Olivares said she plans to return to Colombia in January to visit the children, whom she said are cognizant of the serious problems surrounding them.

“The political problems trickle down. [There are] issues with abuse. A lot of people don’t have work. This directly affects the children. They’re very much aware of the effect these kinds of bigger issues have on them,” she said. “We asked them, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ They were super-aware. They wanted to talk about the lack of doctors, the poor education system, and the river contamination.  They said, ‘Water gives us life’.”

Other speakers at Community Day included Rebecca Davis, Ph.D., director, Center of International Social Work Studies, Rutgers University School of Social Work, who spoke on “Strengthening Child Protection Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa”; Susan Mapp, Ph.D., chair, Department of Social Work, Elizabethtown College, who spoke on “International Child Trafficking”; Lisa Matos, M.A., project director, HealthRight International Human Rights Clinic, who addressed “What you Need to Know about Working with Victims of Torture Seeking Asylum”; and Robin Mama, Ph.D., dean, Monmouth University School of Social Work, who addressed “The Global Agenda & Social Work Day at the United Nations.”  The event was organized by Allison Bobick, MSW, LCSW, assistant professor and director of student advancement at the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.