Journal of Global Social Work Practice, Volume 4, Number 1, May/June 2011
Social Work in Mindanao: Perspectives from the Global North
A social work education program was created to “contribute to peace, reconstruction and development by building social work leadership capacity” in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, the largest of the southernmost islands in the Republic of the Philippines (Community and Family Services International, 2009, p.1). This program represents a challenging intersection of the Global North with the Global South. This article presents the perspective of a social work educator who taught “Generalist Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups” to a group of social work students serving the hundreds of thousands of families displaced by the conflict and natural disasters. The challenge of adapting content to the “complex emergency” in Mindanao and attending to the students’ lived experience is discussed.
Keywords: micro-work in international social work practice, Philippines, Mindanao, social work education, practice in conflict-affected area, global south
In August 2007, the author traveled to Mindanao, which is located in the southern section of the archipelago and is the second largest of the 7,000 islands that comprise the Republic of the Philippines. The island, which grows many of the major crops of the country and yields significant mineral resources, occupies one third of the total land mass of the Philippines. One quarter of the nation’s population, including 27 indigenous cultural communities, makes the island their home, according to the Office of the President Mindanao Economic Development Council (2010). Mindanao, the islands of Basilan and Palawan, and the Tawi-Tawi and Sulu archipelagos, have been the traditional homeland of 13 or more ethnic groups who have indentified themselves as Muslim since their initial contact with Arab sea traders centuries ago (Lingga, 2008; McKenna, 2007). The 2000 Census shows that more than 13 million residents of Mindanao identify themselves as Christian settlers, three million identify themselves as Muslims, and about one and a half million identify themselves as indigenous peoples (Mindanao Economic Development Council, 2008). Mindanao supplies “over 40 percent of the country’s food requirements” and contributes “more than 30 percent to the national food trade” (National Economic and Development Authority, 2010, p. 5). The purpose of the author’s journey halfway around the world was to teach social work. The following is a discussion of the author’s experience.
The flight between Manila, the capital of the Republic of the Philippines, in the north, and Cotobato City, the site of the teaching experience, in the south, takes a little more than two hours. Those two hours mirror the distance between the histories of the two regions. The political history of Mindanao is a long, tortured story related to the Philippine colonial past that is beyond the scope of this article. However, in order to understand the environment, a brief explanation is necessary. Groups of families or clans who have organized themselves into tribes have inhabited the island for several centuries. Several of the tribes were among those converted to Islam years before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. The people in these tribes are known as the Bangsamoro. According to Lingga (2008):
[T]he name Moro was given by the Spanish colonizers to the Muslims in Mindanao whom they found to have the same religion and way of life with the Muslims of North Africa who ruled the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. The Malay word “bangsa” which means nation, was prefixed to suggest distinct nationhood. (p. 98)
Long before the existence of the Republic of the Philippines, large expanses of Mindanao were ruled by sultans. Spanish and American attempts to bring Mindanao under control of the government in the north were met with armed resistance from the Bangsamoro. When the United States offered to give the islands of the Philippines independence following the Spanish-American War, Bangsamoro leaders objected to being part of a new Philippine nation and instead petitioned the White House for permission to become an American territory (Lingga, 2008). Despite multiple attempts to become autonomous, the territories under control of the Bangsamoro people became part of the Republic in 1946. Lingga (2008) and other scholars have interpreted the government policy of encouraging immigration of people from the north to Mindanao as an attempt to reduce the Bangsamoro to a minority. For a longer discussion of the governance of Muslims in Mindanao, see McKenna’s article entitled, Governing Muslims in the Philippines, (2007).
As of today, an extremely tense situation around political control has resulted in armed conflict that has displaced more than half a million people. The “complex emergency” that is the situation in Mindanao is responsible for an estimated 120,000 deaths in the region during two decades of conflict (Tuminez, 2008, p. 1). As the current war between the armed forces of the Republic of the Philippines and what some are calling renegade troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continues, the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are expected to rise. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the conflict is responsible for the displacement of nearly 400,000 people (OCHA, 2010). A non-profit organization which monitors displacement across the world, reports that as of November 2010, more than 20,000 families, or between 100,000 to 120,000 individuals, are living in 76 evacuation centers and 8 relocation sites in Maguindinao, the Mindanao province with the largest concentration of internally displaced persons (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2010).
Armed conflict being a part of the Mindanao future is certain. In December 2008, an International Monitoring Team composed of representatives from Malaysia, Brunei, Libya, Japan, and other countries, concluded its peacekeeping mission. They cited tensions and the government’s decision to release a restraining order preventing the signing of a peace agreement known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) as reasons for withdrawal (Mamid, 2008). In an address to the United Nation’s 63rd General Assembly, former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said that her government was “committed to the process of peace in Mindanao” (“Speech of President Gloria Arroyo”, 2008, ¶15), but said dialogue would not be restarted until “the area is secure, our people are safe, and responsible elements in the MILF regain control” (“Speech of President Gloria Arroyo”, 2008, ¶14). The current leader of the republic, President Benito Aquino III, has said he will restart peace talks and has already formed a new team of negotiators (MILF Rejects, 2010).
The United States Department of State is currently warning Americans of the risks of travel in the area. The Department’s website reads:
Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur not only in the southern islands but also in other areas, to include Manila…Regional terrorist groups have carried out bombings resulting in injuries and death. An October 10 bus bombing in Mindanao claimed 10 lives; an investigation is underway to determine whether this was a terrorist act. Since August 2008, sporadic clashes have occurred between lawless groups and the Philippine Armed Forces in the Mindanao provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Maguindanao, as well as the Sulu Archipelago. Kidnap-for-ransom gangs are active throughout the Philippines and have targeted foreigners. (United States Department of State, 2010, ¶1)
American interest in the region was sparked following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the link established between Al-Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf Group, “a small, shadowy and highly atypical Muslim separatist group that kidnapped two Americans in May 2001” (McKenna, 2007, p. 3). Since 2002, the United States military has maintained an elite counterinsurgency force of 600 troops in the Philippines. The Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines is engaged in training and providing logistical and intelligent support for the Philippine government forces. According to The New York Times, senior officials credit the force with assisting the Philippine government with killing and capturing members of insurgency groups in the south (Shanker, 2009). Colonel Bill Cultrup, the task force commander cited in the article, said 80% of the unit’s work is focused on changing conditions that facilitate safe havens for insurgents by “helping give a better life to the citizens: good governance, better health care, a higher standard of living” (Shanker, 2009, ¶17).
The violence that occurs because of the political control issue is complicated by a cultural practice common to the region. Rido, a form of individual and clan retaliation for assaults both real and perceived, is part of the cultural tradition of Mindanao. Rido is “characterized by sporadic outbursts of retaliatory violence between families and kinship groups” (Torres, 2007, p. 12). Between 1930 and 2005, more than 1,000 incidents of rido were responsible for 5,000 deaths and the displacement of several thousand residents (Torres, 2007, p.16). The most common causes of rido are land and political disputes. Despite cultural factors and political turmoil, McKenna (2007) writes, “Muslims and Christians have lived together in relative harmony in urban centers such as Cotobato City...for more than half a century” (p. 9).
The profession of social work is relatively new to the Philippines. It exists alongside the indigenous helping methods that are part of the current Mindanao situation. The Philippine Association of Social Workers, Inc. (PASWI), which has a chapter in Mindanao, was an advocate of passing legislation creating public social workers, Republic Act 4373, in 1965. A debate about the relationship between the government and the profession, especially in light of the legacy of the Marcos regime, is part of the current conversation (Yu, 2006b). In 2007, a convention for social workers from both the public and private sector drew 500 social workers from all over the island, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (personal communication, 2007). Muslim social workers point towards the Islamic principle of Zakat as the foundation for their work. Zakat, one of the “five pillars” of Islam, requires believers to acknowledge the spiritual meaninglessness of personal wealth and to support certain categories of people, including the poor, the sick, and the elderly by giving alms (Hodge, 2005). Challenges for the Mindanao social workers include lower licensing test scores and some anecdotal evidence of discrimination against Muslim social workers (personal communication, 2007). Poverty and the uncertainty of travel in a conflict-affected area have had an effect on the number of Mindanao social workers who attend graduate social work programs. After working with displaced families, many come to the world of academia armed with considerable practice experience and wisdom, but little exposure to graduate level theory (personal communication, 2007).
It is within the context of the tremendous humanitarian need generated by the armed conflict, the devastating effect of natural disasters on a poor region, and a cultural tradition that includes violent retaliation against others that the Social Work Education Program (SWEP) began. The program was the result of work completed by Dr. Frederick L. Ahearn, former Dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) at The Catholic University of America, Dr. Stephen Muncy, an alumnus of NCSSS, and the executive director of a nongovernmental organization based in the Philippines that helps feed people in evacuation centers and resettle people displaced by the conflict, and the Bangsamoro Development Agency, the development arm of the MILF. It followed a model developed by Dr. Ahearn and the NCSSS and used to teach Chilean social workers from 16 universities during the reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Like the Chile program, SWEP emphasizes the social work value of service articulated in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2008), which states that the profession’s “primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems” (p.5) It also emphasizes CUA’s mission, its unique relationship with the Catholic Church in America, and its “opportunities for influencing the resolution of the crucial issues of our time” (National Catholic School of Social Service, 2009, p. 18).
The humanitarian dimension of the conflict is the focus of the effort. According to Community and Family Services International (CFSI), the Philippine-based humanitarian agency headed by Muncy, the rationale for the program includes the following:
[T]o strengthen social work education in Mindanao and to build leadership for: (1) the return or resettlement, as well as the reintegration, of individuals and families displaced by armed conflict; and (2) the reconstruction and development of communities in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. (CFSI, 2009, ¶18)
CFSI administers the program. It includes the following collaborators: The Catholic University of America, the Bangsamoro Development Agency, Cotabato City State Polytechnic College, Mindanao State University-Marawi City, and Western Mindanao State University-Zamboanga City. According to its most recent report:
The overall aim of the SWEP [is] to contribute to peace, reconstruction, and development by building social work leadership capacity in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. This is to be achieved by providing graduate degree level training in social work within a two-year period in Cotabato City at little or no cost to each student. (CFSI, 2009, p. 1)
The pilot phase of the SWEP began in August 2007. Two Catholic University of America (CUA) professors, including this author, taught two courses of the ten-course curriculum. The ten courses such as community organization, social planning, and program evaluation, focus on “the knowledge and skills to return the IDPs to their villages and begin their lives anew” (NCSSS, 2009, p. 17). The first two classes, Generalist Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups and Generalist Social Work Practice with Groups, Organizations and Communities, include much of the foundation material for the masters-level social work degree at The Catholic University of America’s National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS). In August 2008, just as the first phase of the pilot was underway, the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front broke down. According to CFSI, the breakdown resulted in...
[T]he resumption of armed conflict in some parts of Mindanao, including some communities not too far from the venue for training—Cotobato City—and the displacement of a large number of people, including the friends and families of some of the SWEP students. (CFSI, 2009, p. 3)
Despite that beginning, the 35 students admitted to the first cohort showed up in Cotobato City for the first set of classes in August 2007. The students accepted into the program had to have a bachelor’s degree in social work, work and reside in the conflict-affected areas, and demonstrate a willingness to work in the conflict-affected areas for at least two full years after completing the program. The Bangsamoro Development Agency sponsored a successful outreach program and was able to recruit a substantial number of Muslim applicants. Completion of the program meant receiving a Master of Teaching in Social Work (MTSW) degree. The author taught the class, Generalist Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups for the first cohort. The course teaches foundation “...knowledge, skills, and values for professional social work practice...” and prepares students to apply the generalist perspective to social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities (Sabatino, 2007, p. 1). The major assignments of the course were a genogram, eco-map, and a psychosocial assessment in the classic mode, assigned in two parts.
The first challenge was adapting the content of the course to reflect the students’ lived experiences. Though the global north perspective generally promotes universality of Western theory about human development and human behavior, considerable pre-classroom effort was made to acknowledge that such a perspective might not be useful in this particular context. In addition to constant solicitation of in-class input from the students, Dr. Muncy provided in-person consultation on a daily basis and made sure that the CUA faculty had access to Islamic social work faculty and Islamic academicians. The assistance of the former Dean of the School of Social Work at Western Mindanao State University and other colleagues, including a professor at Cotobato City Polytechnic State University, was invaluable to the experience. In order to get immediate feedback from the students and address potential language barriers, two tests that included true/false and multiple-choice questions were added to the course.
Unanticipated animosity arose between people and fueled armed conflict in Mindanao. Three-quarters of the students were Muslim while six others identified themselves as Christian. The plan called for the students to live in temporary housing near the instruction site. All of the students were paired with roommates. Some Christian students had never interacted with Muslims and vice versa. There were some students from Muslim ethnic groups that had little exposure to other Philippine populations and other students who came from minority Muslim ethnic groups that were routinely disparaged in the Philippines. Some students reported they were discouraged from participating in the course because of the proximity to Americans who might be kidnapped and tortured by rebel groups. Though a conflict resolution process for managing the living space was successfully instituted and managed by the former Dean, tension sometimes spilled over into the classroom environment. Taping a piece of paper to the wall where anyone could write down issues or concerns for others to read was one of the techniques used by the Dean. The visiting professors were not immune from the criticism.
Once class was underway, there were other cultural expectations that affected the teaching environment. Females comprised most of the first cohort. Only six males were part of the class. A considerable number of students taught social work at the baccalaureate level. Some were senior managers at public social service agencies and many others had a great deal of experience in the field. The classroom was a banquet hall that had seven or eight large tables. In order to manage the culturally mandated seating arrangements that did not permit single, young Muslim women to sit with single young Muslim men. The young men were seated at one table and the women were divided into groups that filled the other tables. The differences in age and experience meant the younger members of the class were reluctant to participate in class discussion.
During the classroom experience, there was considerable evidence of the robust debate about the origins and aims of Philippine social work. As Yu (2006a) points out, the Philippine colonial past has driven interpretations of Philippine social work history and for the most part has minimized or ignored indigenous helping traditions. Others have questioned the relevance of the global north social work perspective to life in the Global South (Noble, 2009). Several lectures by Islamic experts, including the former Dean and a physician trained in the West, assisted students with an examination of the Islamic helping tradition’s compatibility with social work’s core values as expressed by the International Federation of Social Workers. The opening and closing ceremonies for the first cohort included prayers from both an Imam and a Christian student. A strength of the SWEP program was the deliberate efforts made to attend to the debate and to acknowledge that while a global north perspective on the profession may sometimes be useful, it is not the only way to practice the profession.
The method of delivery meant that the normal hours of preparatory reading expected of masters level students at The Catholic University of America were adjusted. Although an effort was made to ship social work textbooks to Mindanao, the reality was that additional classroom time would have to be spent making sure students had a full and complete grasp of the material. Though all of the students were English-speakers, the level of proficiency and literacy varied considerably. The Republic of the Philippines has compulsory education, but fees are required to attend school. To address some of those concerns, PowerPoint presentations were prepared and the author carried a laptop and an LCD that was set up in each session. The decision was made by the professors to begin the classroom day early and divide the day in half—three and a half hours of one class and three and a half hours of another class with two 15 minute breaks and a one-hour break for lunch. The schedule accommodated the time needed by the Muslim students for prayers. Approximately one hour following the classroom session was devoted to one-on-one meetings with individual students. Fourteen straight days of instruction began at 8:00 AM and ended at 5:00 PM.
The students were accustomed to a pedagogical tradition that embraced a formal, distant relationship between teacher and students—that is, the teacher delivers the information that students listen to and absorb without question. In this instance, the instructors preferred a style of teaching where comments and questions were part of the feedback loop that confirmed mastery of the material. As a result, very few students participated in the opportunity for class discussion in the beginning. The professors learned that although the cultural tradition of Philippine Islamic women was that they were not to speak in public and were to defer to the male students or to the teacher, there was some willingness to set the cultural prohibition aside in the interest of making sure the students understood the material. As Achebe (1958) notes in his classic work on the struggle between colonial power and indigenous people, Things Fall Apart, it was the older women in the forefront of approving or disapproving modifications in the cultural tradition. In fact, during a practice group session, several of the younger Muslim women remarked that permission to ask questions or articulate thoughts in public was contrary to their lived experience, meaningful to them, and instrumental in self-esteem building.
A second challenge was the lack of access to computers for all students. A requirement of the Masters Program at NCSSS is that all papers be typewritten, double-spaced, in American Psychological Association (APA) style, and handed to the professor on the due date. Clearly, a modification had to be made. The SWEP students were asked to print out their responses on legal-sized paper. Thus, a 20 page, typewritten psychosocial assessment that might be read and graded within a short amount of time became a 40 page handwritten document that required an extensive amount of analysis and grading time.
As previously stated, one of the skills for this class was developing an eco-map and genogram. In order to demonstrate how an eco-map is constructed, a case was developed by the instructor with the assistance of the former Dean that reflected the lives of the people of Mindanao and reified the project’s social justice aims. “The Case of Mrs. Khalid” presented the story of an older woman who comes to the social worker complaining of stress. During the initial assessment, the social worker learns Mrs. Khalid, who is the daughter of a devout Muslim and the sister of two members of the MILF, was once secretly married to a Christian man. The union resulted in the birth of a male child who was left in the care of his Christian grandmother when the marriage dissolved. Mrs. Khalid returned to the home of the parents and was eventually married to a Muslim man. Mrs. Khalid’s child, who is now an adult, reunited with her but has upset his mother with the statement “every generation my family changes religion.” Discussion of the genogram and the ecomap resulted in application of family systems theory and use of the eco-map in the context of Mindanao where large families are commonplace. What the students reported was that, the genogram, necessary to complete the ecomap, helped them understand the value and usefulness of the theory for helping their clients in the evacuation centers to muster the resources necessary to continue their lives.
In the final evaluation of the class, the students reported that although there were some parts of the instruction that directly applied to the work they did, overall they did not see a strong connection between the theory, its application, and the context of the Philippines. To address that concern, the next offering of the class was modified. Many of the readings changed to include content from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support during Emergencies, a report completed by a coalition of United Nations and non-United Nations humanitarian organizations.
Peace, or lack of peace, was one of the chief concerns, but there were other concerns. How would one present his or herself in this environment? As an American, would I be perceived as anti-Muslim because of the current global situation? As an educator from a Catholic institution of higher education, would the students be suspicious of my intentions? Clearly, I am an American, but unlike other Americans, my personal identity includes the story of enslaved Africans. How would I acknowledge that legacy in this environment? Would it be understood? Would it matter to the students?
Safety in a conflict-affected region was a primary concern for both CFSI and the NCSSS professors. In Manila, before travel to Cotobato City, a safety protocol informed by the United Nations protocol for humanitarian aid workers was instituted. The Cotobato airport sits next to several military installations. Thus, it is clear that conflict is present once one steps off the airplane. On the way to the hotel and instruction site, there were several manned checkpoints to be negotiated and the tension during the inspections was palpable. Uniformed armed men were everywhere. Outside the local mall, a young man armed with a weapon inspected the packages of the shoppers. Inside restaurants, uniformed men placed weapons across their laps as they enjoyed lunch and dinner. In Cotobato City, pick-up points and drop-off points changed every day and considerable efforts were made to minimize knowledge about the presence of Americans. Generally, when foreigners begin projects in Mindanao, the local press is provided with details. However, because of the potential danger, no public announcements about the SWEP program were made and the CUA faculty was encouraged to say very little to those who asked questions. CFSI is already engaged in humanitarian work in Mindanao and used its networks to solicit information about potential problems. CFSI staff who kept in constant communication with each other via text messages accompanied the professors at all times. Although there was armed conflict at a site more than 200 miles away during a subsequent trip to Mindanao, there was no report of violence during the first course.
As I listened to the stories of the people I met prior to the trip and made an effort to do additional reading, the decision became clearer. The Bangsamoro Development Agency had made it abundantly clear to Drs. Ahearn and Muncy that education was essential to plans for the future. The religious leaders associated with the agency gave their unequivocal approval to the work with CUA. My own limited knowledge of Judeo-Christian-Islamic cooperation in other parts of the world informed me of the concept of “People of the Book,” or recognition of the common elements of the three major monotheistic, religious traditions. Finally, there was my understanding that there are aspects of the Mindanao experience where my own story intersects with their story. Leaving everything one knows and living in crowded places along with lack of sufficient food and water, loss of life, poor health, poverty, indifference, discrimination, and always fear are common to both enslaved Africans and their descendants and the people of Mindanao. For the first day of class, I dressed in a bubu, a West African garment that includes a headdress, and a pair of slacks. For many of the following sessions, I donned a hajib, the head covering worn by Muslim women, as a sign of respect. As a researcher who uses qualitative methodology, my approach was to consistently acknowledge their expert status in an effort to bridge the gap between global north and global south perspectives.
The chorus of anti-Islam rhetoric that floods American political discourse has penetrated Mindanao perceptions about their potential reception by Americans. It resulted in a moment that duplicated the old comedy routine of “Who’s on first?” When the Imam arrived to participate in the opening ceremony on the first day, I was the one who happened to greet him first. I believe he did not realize that I was an American until we were all formally seated. Then he turned to me and said with a pensive look on his face, “What do you know about Islam?” I said to him, “Do you know Muhammad Ali?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you know Malcolm X?” He said, “Of course.” I said, “Those are my people.” He laughed and visibly relaxed. He was able to extrapolate from that brief interaction that I probably knew more than a little about the religion, that I probably was predisposed to learning more, and that I probably did not actively participate in the anti-Islamic political discourse he had heard about.
A few days later, when one of the students, commenting on my choice to wear the hajib said, “You look just like us!” I was both pleased and puzzled. I was pleased because I thought I had done the right thing—be as open as possible to other cultures. I was puzzled because I had some doubt about what he was really saying. I acknowledged his “compliment” and went on with the lesson plan but the comment stayed with me for some time. Was that exchange what was meant by cultural competence? Alternatively, did I truly look like a native of the Philippines?
As it turned out, the student reception should have been the least of my concerns. To a man and woman they were wonderful and totally engaged in the process. They were very open to us as visitors. They advised us on safety measures. They asked many questions about our lives in America. They expressed genuine concern when the heat got the best of me. They were tolerant during technical difficulties. During role-plays, the matter-of-fact presentation of the difficult nature of their lives and the lives of their clients was remarkable. Most amazing was their stated appreciation of our effort.
Thirty-two students were awarded their Masters in Teaching Social Work by Dean James Zabora of NCSSS in February 2009 in a ceremony at the Center for Humanitarian Excellence in Cotobato. CFSI reports that as of the end of March 2009, 34 of the 35 students who enrolled in August 2007 were working in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. CFSI reports “...most of the graduates were focused on protecting and assisting the more than six hundred thousand children, women and men displaced by armed conflict and natural disasters since August 2008” (CFSI, 2009, p. 3).
Concern for our safety hampered the opportunity to do field visits. Given the opportunity, I would have spent more time in the field learning about the evacuation centers and the people in them. A visit to six houses occupied by former IDPs I made on my second trip to Mindanao taught me more than any reading or lecture about what faces the evacuees and those that assist them. During that experience, I met a young woman with a year old daughter who told me, through an interpreter, that she went to an evacuation center near the end of her pregnancy, delivered in a tent, then months later went back to the farm with her husband when it appeared things were quieting down. At the farm, things did not improve. She described the stress she was under because her infant did not sleep and screamed all night when she heard the sounds of gunfire. As any adult who has cared for a child knows, the screams of an infant can put things into perspective.
In the spring of 2011, the third cohort of Philippine social workers will begin their course of study in the SWEP. This type of social work practice is not only potentially physically dangerous, but also filled with challenges and opportunities. What can social work practiced from a global north perspective add to life in the Global South? As our world changes and the global village becomes smaller and smaller, does our profession have a responsibility to differentiate between what might be helpful and what might be harmful? Familiarity with the literature on cultural competence is a good beginning, but my sense is that it gets educators nowhere near where they need to be in order to be effective. It may be that the profession needs to rethink or revise its approach to reflect this type of practice. In addition to discussing the larger issues of this type of practice as articulated by Noble (2009) and others, students in the United States need to know how to begin to negotiate this type of terrain. They need to know that despite what we teach them in American colleges and universities, there are places in the world where what they know may not be relevant. Ultimately, the only ones who can answer these questions are the SWEP students and their clients. I look forward to interviewing them ten or twenty years from now about what impact the SWEP experience has made in their work and in their clients’ lives.
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Laura G. Daughtery, Ph.D., LICSW, is Assistant Professor at National Catholic School of Social Service, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Dr. Daughtery’s area of professional practice is in child welfare, substance abuse, and gerontology. Her research interests are in public child welfare, the African American family, and health disparities including diabetes education and prevention.