Social Workers Sierra Leone (SWSL), the leading organization for social workers in the country, on Saturday concluded the 2019 Social Work month with a symposium where leading practitioners called for greater recognition of the profession.
The month of March is designated Social Work Month, and around the
world practitioners celebrate it with the aim of educating the general public about their invaluable contributions to society. The month also offers social workers the opportunity to reflect on their work, vis-à-vis best practices.
The symposium convened at the conference hall of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, was preceded by a street procession from the Cotton Tree in the centre of Freetown to the Ministry's offices at New England Ville.
The audience comprised members of SWSL and social work students from its partner learning institutions, including Fourah Bay College; Milton Margai College of Education, Science and Technology; and the College of Theology and Management Studies.
The speakers at the symposium, who were drawn from academia, employing organizations, and the government, took turn to admonish serving and prospective social workers to take the profession with the seriousness it deserves. The presentations included three perspectives from the United Kingdom, Canadian and Russian experiences of social work.
Maimuna Kargbo, a Sierra Leonean social worker who studied and worked in Canada, advised young social workers against the temptation of passing judgement on clients with non-conforming lifestyles. This, she said, is important given the conservative nature of Sierra Leone where people tend to be biased through religious influences.
"Everyone has a story to tell... Social workers should not be judgmental," said Ms Kargbo, while talking about meeting the needs of neglected communities like same sex people.
Moses Abdul Fullah, who started his social work career as a volunteer during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, decided to divert into the mainstream social work profession from his management background by pursuing a Master's Degree in social work in Russia. Since returning home about six months ago, Moses has been teaching social work at FBC. He narrated that he had to go into the academic field because he realized that there was hardly any opportunity to serve as a social worker in the field, despite the fact that social work services were very much needed in the country.
"Social work is very much needed in our country which has a lot of social issues: poverty, the effect of the civil war, the Ebola epidemic and the mudslide," he said. He also cited the many mentally retarded people in the streets of Freetown as well as the homeless people who he said needed social work services.
Elizabeth Kaima, who recently moved from the UK to Sierra Leone, has been in the country for only eight months and she observed that the condition of able bodied population alone leaves a lot to be desired in terms of access to social services. She wondered therefore what it would mean for those who are disadvantaged, hence the need for social workers.
David Lamin, one of the longest serving social workers in the country, spoke on the need for regulation as interest in the profession grows rapidly. Lamin, who is currently the Child Protection Officer at Unicef Sierra Leone, has worked as a social worker for 30 years. He said while there was the need for social work services, it was also important to ensure that practitioners follow the rules governing the profession, hence the need for regulation. He cited examples where social workers have been found wanting for abusing children under their care,
Mr Lamin also called for the harmonization of the social work education curriculum, stressing on the need to align it with international
best practices. He said that after qualification, there was the need for social workers to be licensed to practice it. Mr Lamin also lamented that these days many people were opting to study social work with the goal of getting job with NGOs and the associated remuneration and privileges.
"The most important challenge for social work is the need to regulate
it," he stressed.
Dr Abess Gassam, Principal Lecturer at the Milton College of Education, Science and Technology, also emphasized on the need for training for social workers. He said with the country struggling to cope with endless social problems that included school dropouts, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, the role of social workers had never been more important.
"With adequate training in social work, we will be able to sensitize
the public about these problems," he said.
The Ministry of Social Welfare was represented at the symposium by the Director of Children's Affairs, Joicy B. Kamara, who painted a scary picture of the trend of child trafficking, among other social issues confronting the country. She spoke about the role of social workers in addressing all these issues and assured the ministry's commitment to improve the status of social workers.
Saturday's symposium was the first of three major programs organized by SWSL during the course of the month's celebration, which is championed by the International Federation of Social Workers. Among other events, there was an outreach psychosocial session on emotional wellbeing held in the Fourah Bay community as well as media sensitization talks.
SWSL is an association of social workers who, mainly through volunteering, strive to improve the wellbeing of the people of Sierra Leone. They provide psychosocial counseling to vulnerable communities and partake in national responses in distress situation. The organization, founded in 2012, notably work with deprived and neglected communities. SWSL's activities are funded through partnerships with both local and international organizations, like the Lemon Aid Fund which is based in the United and which was the main funder of this Social Work Month celebration.
This year's celebration marks the fourth time the Social Work Month is being commemorated in Sierra Leone. And SWSL was the first to celebrate the month in the country. The global theme for the celebration was: 'Promoting the importance of human relationships.' Individual countries also carved their own themes. SWSL adopted the American theme, which was: 'Elevate Social Work.'
Hamid Conteh, communications coordinator of SWSL and chairman of Saturday's symposium, said as social workers, they have their own role in elevating the lives of the vulnerable communities.