|Saturday, 3 July 2004|
Help them help themselves
The Social Work Profession shares a common interest in and shows a strong commitment to serve groups of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and helpless and it is this commitment that distinguishes Social work from other helping professions. This commitment involves direct intervention, advocacy and policy formulation and planning and levels of practice vary from micro to macro levels.
by Priscilla Welikala
In the field of Social Work Education the students are taught from a body of knowledge and theory coming from a variety of disciplines such as Anthropology, Biological sciences, Economics, Psychology and Sociology.
In addition, they have field practicals where they get an opportunity to practise what they have learnt. For this, they work with individuals, groups and communities in the field, using the theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom.
This prepares the student to work with people with an understanding and focus on releasing human power in individuals to maximize their potentials and contribute to the collective good of society. In doing this the social work practitioners work with people in ways that strengthen their sense of competence, link them with needed resources and try to promote positive changes at organizational level so that they meet the needs of people.
In working with people what is very important is to look at all human beings as members of the human race. People are unique as well as similar. It is said that each fingerprint on every human being is different. There is uniqueness in every human being.
There are similarities too. Any surgeon anywhere in the world can successfully operate on any human being, regardless of culture. Race. Nationality, language, caste, religious affiliation etc. because hearts, heads and other parts of the anatomy will always be relatively in the same place.
This is something very important to understand, not only for those in the Social Work Profession, but in all other professions and fields of work. People are very important irrespective of who they are and what they are. They are the lifeblood that keeps all systems functioning. They bring greatness to individuals who have served them.
They can make and break governments by voting a government into power or defeating a government by voting against. This was seen very clearly in the recent elections. They sustain all professions. If people are not there to receive services the professions will not exist. Hence if people are so important what must be understood is that within each person lies a great longing for self-respect, hope and a chance to make an important contribution to ones family and the community.
When opportunities are not there for the people, a sense of hopelessness sets in and they fall into a state of apathy.
This is a state where people's potentials lay dormant while they continue to remain dependant. No government program can help families to become self-reliant and contributing members of a society unless it is based on the understanding of needs of people for self-respect, for recognition and for hope to live a life that is worthy of a human being.
If people are very important in society enhancing their potentials and empowering them should be the duty of all who serve them.
The main objective of the Social Work Profession is to help people to help themselves and for this capacity building of people becomes a major role. In doing this social work is grounded on the core values of self-determination, empowerment, confidentiality and belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings.
Every human being irrespective of the position they hold in society are people, unique and similar and are members of the human race. It is their right to get services and it is the duty of those who give the services to do so upholding their worth and dignity.
There is a great need for Professional Social Work Education in Sri Lanka. The people need to be given their due place and treated with worth and dignity if they are to realize their own potentials.
Unless and until people are able to enhance their own potentials they will continue to remain dependant. The objective of Programmes and Services, Projects and other Aid Programmes are to enable people to move out of dependency and lead a better quality of life and be contributing members of the society.
In doing this it is very important to use an empowering approach where people are helped to look at themselves and make use of their own abilities. In Social Work Education the practitioners are helped to understand this concept and help the people to look at not only the negative aspects, but the positive aspects as well.
It is important to help people to think about things they can do for themselves instead of eternally depending on 'hand out' services. Of course in society there will always be groups of individuals who need to be helped.
Here reference is made to those who are able to do more for themselves than depend on provision of services. Change is difficult. Yet it is possible.
Hence it is necessary to prepare professionals with the necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills to do this and assist all programmes and services not only in the delivery of services but in helping the people to become more self-reliant and competent to maximize their abilities and move towards a better quality of life.
Social Workers are very important in present day society. They can function in many settings to 'humanize' existing services and give the best to the people they serve. For example in the field of Education there is an important role social workers can play to give the best to the children who learn.
Teaching and learning has been geared towards the development of the whole child, in the home, in the school, in the community and as a contributing citizen of society. To day we live in a complex world.
The fast changes in society are leading to varied problems that affect growing children. Disturbing factors are brought about by changes in home and family life, consequences of industrialization, loss of jobs, economic tensions and changing cultural values.
All these affect children at school that they are subject to disastrous consequences. A very clear example of this was demonstrated in an article, in the Sunday Observer recently. This demonstrates the plight of some of our children in school. The article states a brilliant student in grade 9 had been starving the whole day. Realizing that he had Rs. 20.00 he went out the evening to buy a loaf of bread when he was knocked down by a cement lorry and was killed.
The family with other children are living in dire circumstances and the father is an assistant in a fish stall and this may not have brought him an income even to meet the basic needs of this family.
This article states that there are "many such children in our villages". The teachers in school do not have sufficient time to take action to bring such situations to the notice of those who could definitely do something positive in improving these circumstances. Had there been a school social worker and if the circumstances of this child and the family were brought up, there would have been positive things the social worker would have done.
It is the role of social work to assess situations, link them with available resources and support and guide them to move on to a better quality of life.
We have in our society many Non Governmental Organizations, government programs and services as well as International NGOs whose main objective is to assist people to live a better quality of life.
It is unfortunate that this did not happen. Even if free education, free clothing and free books are supplied to schools in our villages the children are not able to maximize these due to other circumstances as mentioned in Udara's situation. Hence let this be an eye opener to the authorities concerned to realize the importance of school social workers, to whom the teachers could refer when they face such dire situations.
In the field of Health too there is a great need for Medical social workers. Here too it is a known fact that the doctors do not have sufficient time to spend with a patient, other than prescribe medicines for their ailments. This is because of the large numbers who come to see the doctors.
A medical social worker attached to a hospital or at a clinic could do great service by finding out relevant non-medical information that may contribute to aggravate their illnesses. Poor living conditions, limited resources, family problems all can contribute to situations which could be identified by a medical social worker and action could be taken to make them knowledgeable of resources available or guide them into a positive course of action. In spite of dire circumstances they live in, they on their own may not take action to improve themselves due to lack of knowledge or motivation to improve themselves.
As illness is something they cannot live with always they find the means some how to see a doctor and this can be taken as an opportunity to help them out through the intervention of a Medical Social worker.
In the field of Psychiatry too the presence of a Psychiatric Social Worker will greatly help in dealing with social factors that contribute to a mental illness.
Similarly in many other professions dealing directly with people the involvement of social workers can greatly assist in the satisfactory delivery of services.
It is the aim of all governments as representatives of the people to deliver the services to people so that they could lead a better quality of life. It is important for all to remember that people are very important and they are powerful too.
However it must be remembered that it is their right to receive services and that they must at all times be treated with worth and dignity.
Hence it is time that those in authority looked at the field of Social Work as a needed profession and make room for trained Social Workers to find employment in various fields where services are delivered to people.
The writer is Assistant Director (Retired), School of Social Work
Produced by Lake House