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Module 7Implications for Social Work Generalist Practice

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A Human Rights Perspective

Throughout its history social work has been actively involved in global issues that impact human development and wellbeing. Some Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited MSW programs focus on international social work; SAGE publishes a journal on international social work; the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is an organization that focuses on best practices for global social work; and there are jobs for international social workers—including at the UN.

CSWE Competency 2: Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice

CSWE identified social work competencies provide guidelines to assess skills that social workers need to comprehensively address human wellbeing in complex situations within the diverse global environment such as are needed in work with refugees. 

In their 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) for BSW and MSW programs, CSWE stated that to understand and engage with refugees and host communities, it is important to: 

understand how diversity and difference characterize and shape the human experience and are critical to the formation of identity.…and understand that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim. (p. 7) [See CSWE 2015 EPAS]

A Human Rights Perspective

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Preamble states: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (para.1). A human rights perspective with the social work focus on listening to people and their communities is exemplified by how refugees and community-based service providers in this study worked together. They recognized diversity and difference, and adapted resources to meet the needs of refugees and people in the host communities to thereby promote “inalienable rights” for those in both groups. [See Universal Declaration of Human Rights]

The Dean of the Alice Salomon Hochschule shared how faculty and students promoted safety for refugees who were being intimidated by right-winged and anti-migrant antagonists by providing 24/7 protection at the shelter near the university as well as their “walking bus”. Volunteers from Fluchtlingshilfe in Schwerin provided refugees food and clothing along with opportunities to meet residents of their host communities for them to get to know each other. The “Sunday School” teachers support the inherent dignity and worth of refugee children and their families by helping them retain some of their original culture and language while transitioning into a new host community when some in the host community only showed disrespect because of their race/nationality. They also met together and showed care for each other when they discussed their fears for their children’s futures and their anxieties about the welfare of their family members in war torn homelands. The students from Afghanistan and Iran took courses offered to them by the community to learn the German language that enabled them to gain professional skills for future employment and promote their integration with people in the host community.  

Relational-Cultural Theory

From a relational-cultural lens, relationships that foster growth and wellbeing are central to individual and community development. Supporting refugees and residents of host communities to engage with each other to learn about their cultural traditions, rituals and world-views while learning to live together can be challenging and inspiring. Refugees and community-based service providers in Germany developed relationships with each other to promote a better understanding of each other and their cultures. For example, special “Connection Cafes” were established to offer residents and refugees meeting places to get to know each other. Together, refugees and host community residents established the “Sunday School” in Schwerin to teach refugee children their native language and to offer people from different cultures the opportunity to interact with each other. Vocational training opportunities were offered to refugees for them to learn the skillset necessary to work in Germany and/or to take those newly developed skill back to their homelands if and when they were able to return home. The Alice Salomon Hochschule opened one hotel as a project with refugees, artists, and musicians; and they started another where the public could stay along with refugees.