News & Events
Exploring social justice in global practice: BUSSW students reflect on Mali
Published on March 20, 2009
--Farha Sandhu (COM '09)
Sometimes you have to go far from home to better understand yourself, your environment, and your world. Recently, four BUSSW students did just that, and traveled over 4000 miles as part of the Development, Social Welfare and Culture in Mali, West Africa course, led by Professor Scott Miyake Geron. For three weeks, participating BUSSW students Amy Garner, Lisa Gentry, Beth Mangan and Cara Miller had a living learning experience in the land-locked nation. View photos from Mali.
The class featured the usual combination of lectures, presentations, readings, and writing, as well as site visits to health clinics, hospitals and schools. But, Professor Geron described the class as an experience well-beyond the typical 2 hour time block. It is “eye-opening,” said Geron, providing students with “a broader perspective on macro and micro social work practice, and a chance to look at how policies in the West affect the developing world, and Mali is a perfect place to see it.”
Indeed, 90 percent of Mali’s inhabitants live on less than two dollars a day, and 72 percent on less than one - making it the only country in the world with the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line. Nevertheless, it is also rich in culture, showcasing a great variety of traditional and contemporary architecture, music, and arts and crafts.
MSW/MPH student Lisa Gentry cited her experience in Mali as life-changing, one that “broadened my scope to include foreign populations.” And, she continued, it “gave me a broader understanding and heightened level of respect for different cultures. [I have] a much better understanding of what it means to live in poverty and [the class] strengthened my desire to do something about it.”
The exposure to international social work in action also heightened students’ awareness of the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. Visiting several health care facilities, they spoke with doctors and other care providers about the realities of AIDS. During a site visit to a NIH funded research lab in Bamako, they were able to discuss research studies on topics such as the co-occurrence of TB with HIV in Mali.
Advanced standing MSW student Cara Miller cited the many AIDS awareness billboards and signs around the country as indicative of the key focus on prevention and awareness in Mali. “There is much money going into testing and treatment, as well as prevention education,” she said.
Upon returning home, the students hosted an information session for the School, and all agreed on the mportance of offering a class or perspective in global practice. Gentry stated, “Having an international perspective can affect how you work with clients and communities in the U.S., particularly with refugees and immigrants, but also with the population in general. Seeing the importance of family and community in other cultures can bring that perspective home. It is important to know how policy in the U.S. affects other nations, as well as to gain perspective on how to do something about it.”
Agreeing, Miller asserted that “it seems almost naive not to take into account the global context when approaching issues of social justice.”
Learn more about BUSSW's international social work programs.
Distinguished by its urban mission and clinical and macro practice focus, the Boston University School of Social Work is committed to educating masters’ and doctoral level students who will become leaders in a multicultural environment. The School offers the MSW and PhD degrees, as well as continuing professional education, and its nationally recognized faculty has been ranked 8th among schools of social work with doctoral programs. Located in a diverse and academically rich community, the School offers almost unlimited opportunities for urban social work practice and research. Visit bu.edu/ssw for more information.
About Boston University:
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school's research and teaching mission.