A report on the 2016 Social Work Day at the UN
by Ashley Barnes MSW ’16 and Kailey Lopian MSW/MPH ’18
Ever wondered about how one becomes an international social worker? Read on!
Two University at Buffalo (UB) School of Social Work students attended this year’s Social Work Day at the U.N. They share their experiences, what inspired them and what they learned. As part of our commitment to macro practice and international social work, UB contributed to the students’ travel expenses.
We thank Monmouth University School of Social Work for its role in coordination of this event!
33rd Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations
Theme: Refugees and Displaced Persons: Ensuring Dignity and Worth
“The International Federation of Social Workers @IFSW and the International Association of Schools of Social Work @IASSW_AIET are pleased to announce that the 33rd Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations is scheduled for Monday, April 4, 2016.
Social Work Day at the UN is a gathering place for people around the world who are working to make a difference. For 33 years students, practitioners, and educators have been convening at the UN to learn more about the UN, innovative projects and issues related to International Social Work and the critical role Social Work plays in the international arena.”
from Monmouth University School of Social Work website.
Ashley Barnes: International social work is something I am passionate about.
What draws me to to it is the personal connection I will have with those whom I will be serving. As someone from a very mixed background, I know firsthand how important international social work is. Growing up in my community (the South Bronx), social workers were not always positively received. There were a lot of barriers to engagement; often social workers did not know how to effectively engage with people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Over the course of my academic career, I was invested in learning as much as possible about international social work.
I have volunteered at events such as World Refugee Day in Western New York and was a peer mentor at Hampshire College’s Cultural Center during all four years of my undergraduate education.
Taking courses at UB such as “Trauma and Human Rights” and “Diversity and Oppression” gave me insight into the importance of utilizing many different frameworks when working with clients who are different from me.
“Attending this event gave me the opportunity to speak to others in the field of social work about international social work as well as connect and exchange resources and ideas.” ~ Ashley Barnes
During the morning session of the April 4th Social Work Day at the United Nations, panelists spoke about their personal experiences in working with refugee and displaced persons.
Ninette Kelley, Director, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Liaison Office in New York;
Nazifullah Salarzai, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Afghanistan Mission to the UN;
Guglielmo Schinia MA, MSc, Head of Mental Health Psychosocial Response, International Organization for
Ruth Stark, MSc, CQSW, MBE, President, International Federation of Social Workers; and
Patricia Talisse, MSW Candidate at Fordham University and a refugee from Syria.
Kailey Lopian: The gathering of so many social workers in the same place with a shared interest in the theme of “Refugees and Displaced Persons: Insuring the Dignity and Worth of all People” was inspiring. Every speaker emphasized the role social workers have to play in the international arena, especially during this surge in international migration.
The panelists addressed:
– the necessity of collaboration;
– the importance of recognizing the disconnect between what we see in the media and what is actually
– the need to recognize our own (mis)perceptions;
– understanding the root causes of migration;
– the value of community- and person-centered approaches; and
– the severe conditions in which refugees and internally displaced people live.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees
Kailey: Ninette Kelly’s explanation of the UNHCR’s community-based approach was especially interesting and relevant to my professional goal of working with refugees in the USA and abroad. UNHCR’s focus is on empowerment, which includes areas such as refugee decision-making, participatory assessment, and collaboration and partnership. I found it especially helpful to hear her describe common mistakes service providers make when working with migrants: a sole focus on trauma, an emphasis on pathology, and replication of services.
International Organization for Migration
Mr. Schinina from the International Organization for Migration emphasized the need to move toward a person-centered approach, recognize the diversity within the migrant population, and stop the objectification of migrants. Such objectification can be traumatizing or re-traumatizing. He used, as an example of this, the widely published photograph of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned on an overloaded boat which sank after leaving Turkey for Greece. This photo became a symbol of the suffering of Syrian refugees.
The IOM views migrants as individual subjects and citizens, looking beyond the categories of refugee or asylee. Mr. Schinina spoke of the importance of social work within a series of systems and among the differences in international positions.
International Federation of Social Workers
Ruth Stark, the president of the IFSW, suggested we reflect on the everyday language we use. She explained the world is not in crisis due to refugees, but rather the current mass migration is the result of a political crisis. She also illustrated the way social workers can work on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels to find a balance between meeting basic needs and competing human rights.
Speaking from Personal Experience
Kailey: Patricia Talisse, a MSW student at Fordham University, discussed her experience as a refugee from Syria. Ms. Talisse explained how Syria was once a principal destination country for Iraqi refugees. She stated Syrians never considered that they would be in the same situation years later. This perspective goes to show the international humanitarian duty all countries have, and, while we might experience stability and prosperity now, we can never be certain of the future.
Ashley: Patricia gave a very warm and heartfelt presentation about her personal experience as a refugee. At the conclusion of her presentation, she stated that she wants to live in a country where love is our religion. I was able to take a lot away from her speech. I feel that she provided the audience with a level of insight that the other panelists could not. She spoke from her own experience and used a social work lens to engage and connect with the audience.
“Even if many jobs do not have ‘social worker’ in the title, the social work skill set, theories, and core values are highly applicable and needed in international work right now.” ~ Kailey Lopian
Becoming an International Social Worker
Kailey: In the afternoon, students gathered for a session focused on obtaining a job in international social work.
Speakers for this session included
-Esther Pan Sloane, Foreign Service Officer, Advisor at the US Mission to the UN;
-Amy Bess, MSW, Coordinator of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, and
-Margarete Sobral, Chief Outreach and Workforce Planning Section, Field Personnel Division, United Nations.
The speakers discussed their experiences working abroad and the pathways they took to get there. They also shared various NGO job search engines, explained the recruitment process for UN field missions and offered resume, job application, and interview advice.
(Editor’s note: check out the United Nations Careers webpage)
They also suggested skills, such as learning a language and immersing yourself in different cultures, and recommended types of volunteer, internship, or work experience to pursue in order to be more competitive in the international job market.
I would recommend that students attend both morning and afternoon sessions, especially if you are passionate about working in international social work. We learned there are numerous international agencies to become involved with and there are US-based positions related to international social work. If anything, I wish the morning session had been longer, because the five speakers were squeezed into a two-hour time period and there was little time for questions. I also really enjoyed the tour of the UN, during which we visited the different council chambers. I learned about the history and functioning of the organization, the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.
Ashley: I hope that other MSW students will attend this event next year. It is an experience worth having. Being in a room full of people who are passionate about what you are passionate about is an extremely uplifting and inspiring experience. My only advice is that you get there early so that you can get a good seat!
Social Work Day at the UN was the highlight of my last semester at UB. It will help me to be a more thoughtful and considerate worker.
“The [day] is a great networking opportunity and chance to experience a global-minded group and setting.” ~Kailey Lopian”
“It is an experience worth having. Being a room full of people who are passionate about what you are passionate about is an extremely uplifting and inspiring experience.” ~ Ashley Barnes
About the authors
Ashley Barnes graduated with her MSW in May 2016, and is now back in New York City. She plans on pursuing a career in international social work.
Kailey Lopian is a student in the Master’s of Social Work and Public Health dual degree program and expects to graduate in 2018. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Community Health and Spanish from Tufts University. Kailey hopes to work with immigrant and refugee populations.