UP celebrates World Social Work Day 2023!

Posted on April 12, 2023

This year, World Social Work Day (WSWD2023) fell on South Africa’s Human Rights Day, 21 March. To celebrate the occasion, the Social Work and Criminology Department at the University of Pretoria (UP) organised three separate events between 17-28 March 2023 that broadly addressed the theme Respecting diversity through joint social action.

To start the week’s festivities, an online event was organised by staff and a few third year social work students. Although the lecturers helped to plan the programme, the virtual event emphasised students and their participation across four countries and universities. Additional attendees also included staff and students from Robert Gordan University in Scotland, Sheffield Hallam University in England and the University of Gdańsk in Poland. From UP, Professor Linda Harms-Smith, Professor Stephan Geyer and Mrs Elmien Claassens were involved along with the third year social work students’ Kyra McDonald, Indiphile Maki, Lihle Nyirenda, Dominique Jacquet, Modise Mesa, Sibusiso Mziyako and Dimpe Mitchel (Mamalope).

This event required students from the respective universities to submit a pre-recorded video answering various prompts that addressed the themes of diversity and social action. These individual videos were edited together and screened during the event and helped participants to draft this joint statement on respecting diversity through joint social action:

“Respecting diversity means acknowledging strengths and recognising that people and peoples have rich and unique characteristics, backgrounds, and cultures. To achieve this we must: challenge inequalities; advance social justice for all; promote education for conscientisation; and embrace and celebrate differences." 

Global social workers united: Shining a light on diversity

The focal event for all social work students and staff took place on 22 March 2023 in the Sanlam Auditorium on UP’s Hatfield campus. The event merged the WSWD 2022 and 2023 themes and engaged the topic of “Respecting diversity in co-building an eco-social world, leaving no one behind”. Prof Antoinette Lombard, Head of the Department of Social Work and Criminology was the keynote speaker and her presentation was followed by several other activities, such as a dramatic skit performed by the Department’s third year students, a presentation by Melody Mudukuti a current MA student in the Department, on the project ‘Water Wize’ which she implemented at a primary school during her fourth year social work study at UP. Also on the programme was a digital student photo collage and a panel discussion with Dr Peggie Chiwara, Dr Eugene Machimana, and students Mr Batsirai Chigaazira and Ms Miandi Swart. Organised by the Student Social Work Association (UPSSWA), students and staff from the Department then gathered to paint the wall next to the Merensky Library in honour of World Social Work Day 2023 and to continue debating how best to implement joint social action and sustainability.

Another student-led online event took place on 28 March 2023 but this one specifically discussed the theme “Co-building a new eco-social world: Leaving no one behind”. Joining UP colleagues virtually were staff and students from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand, the South African College for Applied Psychology and Hope Africa University in Bujumbura, Burundi. Staff representatives from each university introduced their institutions and explained how they teach their students through a global environment and context. Prof Lombard also spoke about how the Department focuses on both being locally relevant and globally engaged.

Social work students from the participating universities then presented their impressions on collaborating to build a new eco-social world. For instance, the presentation from UP’s Alex Msipa, a BA and MA alumnus, explored issues such as sustainability, environmental and social challenges, socio-economic development and poverty. In his presentation, Mr Msipa also discussed the study which he conducted for his MA degree that aimed to understand the impact of land degradation on the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and land care workers in Ladybrand, in South Africa’s Free State province. Mr Msipa outlined how his study relates to developmental social work by illustrating how the topic links with human rights and collaborates through partnerships to bridge the micro and macro practice divide. Following these student presentations, participants joined breakaway sessions where they could further their discussions.

During her closing, Prof Lombard highlighted the core issues raised during the week’s festivities, which included the impact of climate change as well as the importance of joint social action and local connectedness. She also emphasised other important aspects of the field of social work including how social workers can develop and evolve as society changes. Prof Lombard also noted how crucial it is for social workers to engage with the most vulnerable and affected members of society, those who have been left behind.

World Social Work Day 2023 was a time for institutions and individuals involved in the field of social work to reflect on issues of social action, sustainability, diversity and inclusion. Although WSWD 2023 was a time to celebrate social workers, it was also a time to address issues that are central to the field of social work, and to find a way to cope with environmental, economic and social change while ensuring that vulnerable and affected communities are not left behind or forgotten.



- Author Robyn Schnell

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