World Social Work Day celebrated at the University of Pretoria

Posted on March 26, 2013

The Global Agenda is an initiative by three international bodies, namely the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW).

These bodies, which represent social work, social work education and social development, have for many years held formal consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and other UN and related agencies. Their main objective is to collaboratively do something to help people face the social realities and challenges facing the world today. These challenges include the socio-economic inequalities, human injustices and the abuse of human rights.

Therefore, following the Global Agenda conference held in Hong Kong in 2010, the following commitments were captured:

• promoting social and economic equalities

• promoting the dignity and worth of all people

• working towards environmental sustainability

• strengthening recognition of the importance of human relationships

Professor Antoinette Lombard, Head of Department: Social Work and Criminology, University of Pretoria, says that this year’s focus will be on the first commitment, namely promoting social and economic equalities. She goes on to say that social workers have an opportunity to affirm how they make a contribution in this regard. However, this contribution is not significantly recognised by either the society or by the social workers themselves. Social workers often work behind the scenes, as opposed to more overtly mobilising those who are socially and economically excluded to stand up for their socioeconomic rights.

‘Social workers should take a firm position to ensure a social floor or a minimum acceptable standard of living as a means of distributional fairness. Vulnerable groups such as children, women and the elderly must be made aware of their right to social and economic freedom in a more explicit manner,’ says Prof Lombard.

A keynote address on the celebration of World Social Work Day was delivered by Prof Lena Dominelli, Professor of Applied Social Sciences at the School of Applied Social Sciences, and a co-director of the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University in the UK.

Prof Lena Dominelli has received numerous awards for her contribution to international social work theory and practice and her contribution to social justice and a better society. Her recently published book, Green social work: from environmental crises to environmental justice, is a result of her engagement in a number of projects where she links the social and physical sciences in responding to the major challenges of our time – climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and droughts.

Prof Dominelli draws attention to the important voice of social work practitioners working on the ground, especially regarding the aftermath of environmental disasters, whether these are caused by climate change, industrial accidents, or human conflict. She explores the concept of green social work’ and its role in using environmental issues to address poverty and other forms of structural inequalities in order to obtain more equitable allocations of limited natural resources and to tackle global sociopolitical forces that have a damaging impact upon the quality of life of poor and marginalised populations at local levels. She says that the resolution of these matters is linked to community initiatives that social workers can engage in, in order to ensure that the quality of life of poor people can be enhanced without costing the earth.

‘Green social work is a holistic and collaborative approach to community development in which social workers deal with socioeconomic and other forms of inequality by looking at the whole environment in which people live. With this concept, social workers look at environmental degradation, and also bring in social justice and human rights perspective in trying to meet the basic human needs,’ says Prof Dominelli.

Prof Dominelli had an opportunity to visit some communities in Pretoria and also visited the Erasmus community where she established that this ‘new’ concept of green social work is already being practised. She noted that the community make their own bricks which will be used in erecting buildings. They are also involved in recycling projects, resulting in a clean and healthy environment for the community’s inhabitants.

Prof Dominelli encouraged social work students to think of ways in which they can give better lives to people without compromising their environment. ‘See yourselves as custodians of planet earth,’ she concluded.

Prof Dominelli addressing the students during the celebration of World Social Work Day

Best 2012 social work students with Prof Antoinette Lombard and Prof Lena Dominelli
Second from left is Elanzé Grobbelaar (winner of the Best Group Work Third-year Award) and fourth from left is Nomcebo Shabalala (winner of the Best Second-year Student Award for 2012).

Students and lecturers were also present at the celebrations. From left to right are: Ms Poppy Mashigo (Lecturer), Marlies Teunis and Marieke Sand (both students from the Netherlands also doing an internship at Services to Persons with Disabilities (SPD)), Clementine Chiloane (social work student also doing an internship at SPD) and Ms Ntembi Bila (Lecturer).

 Academics from other institutions also attended the celebrations. From left to right are: Ms Ilze Aucamp (an environmental consultant and also a PhD social work student at UP); Ms Retha Strydom (Lecturer of Business Management from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences); Ms Miemie Sesoko (Department of Social Work at Unisa); Prof Antoinette Lombard (Head of Department: Criminology and Social Work at UP) and Prof Lena Dominelli (Professor of Applied Social Sciences at the Durham University, UK).



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