Monday, 27 February 2017

Spotlight on Social Work Students

This semester 12 of our 18 students are Social Work majors who have joined USP to complete their junior or senior level field placements. As part of the Social Work Emphasis (SWE), they also participate in USP's Social Work Seminar, taught by Lisa Tokpa, MSW, which accompanies their field placements and supports their cross-cultural learning. SWE students dedicate a lot of their time to their practicums; juniors complete 150 practicum placement hours and seniors year complete between 400– 450 hours (depending on their school’s requirements). 

Each student is placed at one of USP's partner organizations and works with a specific population in the Ugandan context, under a Ugandan supervisor. Three SWE students share some of their thoughts on their practicum placements thus far this semester:

Alexis Conkle
Alexis Conkle is a current USP student from Messiah College in her junior year. Her practicum is at Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) which is a Ugandan run organization in Mukono that primarily serves the elderly population in order to give them dignified lives. They also have programs for children and young adult girls who have been raised by their grandparents.  Alexis, who was uncertain about her placement initially, was pleasantly surprised to find that the jajas (the elderly, or grandmothers and grandfathers) they work with are incredibly upbeat and energetic.

Alexis has found she especially enjoys the office community at ROTOM. The staff are friendly and close-knit. One of the staff members at ROTOM who Alexis finds particularly inspiring is the driver, who she says is passionate about his job and confidently sees his role of transporting jajas and staff where they need to go as part of God’s work for his community.

Doing her practicum at ROTOM, Alexis has been learning how life and work in another culture can be very different. For example, in the ROTOM Bible Study that she attends each Tuesday morning, she has found that people can read the Bible differently based on their cultural context. She also says that poverty and the approach to alleviating poverty can look very different in Uganda from what she has seen in the United States. Alexis has also learned that culture does not have to be a barrier that comes in between relationships. She has had the opportunity to meet with some of the college students that ROTOM supports and finds them easy to relate to and not dissimilar to college students in the U.S.

USP social work junior, Alexis Conkle

Bryson Barefoot
Bryson, a senior from Southeastern University, is doing his practicum is at Noah’s Ark, an international organization that serves vulnerable children in Mukono. Bryson says so far he has experienced several stages at his practicum. The first weeks were extremely busy with so many kids needing attention. However, a number of programs have since started up at Noah’s Ark, and the days have settled into a steady rhythm. Bryson is thankful for those busy days earlier in the semester because they gave him a chance to get to know the kids. His relationships with them have grown and he now has an automatic connection with the kids when they approach him. “At this point,” Bryson says “there is nowhere else I’d rather be for my practicum.”

Bryson has learned a lot from his supervisor at Noah’s Ark, from his example and how he invests in each child. He says his supervisor is extremely good at what he does and has a wealth of knowledge about each of the children he works with.

Initially Bryson was concerned that the skills he is learning in Uganda would not be transferable back in the U.S.; however, after being at his internship for over a month, he now feels that he will have an advantage in the U.S. when it comes to working cross-culturally and being comfortable with diversity.

USP social work senior, Bryson Barefoot

Delaina Peek
Delaina, also a senior from Southeastern University, is completing her practicum at Butabika National and Teaching Hospital, which serves the mentally ill. This is the first semester USP has partnered with Butabika for social work placements. From the first day, Delaina’s supervisor has given her opportunities to interact with clients and learn about mental health in Uganda. Looking back, Delaina feels these opportunities to learn ‘on the job’ have been the best possible way to learn. From day one, Delaina has been overwhelmed with knowledge that is opening her eyes to the realities of mental illness. 

Working with the patients at Butabika is about authenticity and can be messy. “It’s not glamorous,” Delaina says, “most cases that are presented do not have clear answers or solutions.”

Despite the many challenges she is seeing each day, her practicum has many great moments. Delaina has enjoyed doing ward rounds with staff members from various disciplines, learning about play therapy, making assessments, and having the ability to practice presence with the patients she meets.

USP social work senior, Delaina Peek

The experiences the social work students gain at their practicum sites can be both incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding. They leave their time in Uganda more culturally humble, aware, and adaptable; as they return home, they take with them skills and experiences that they would not have had they not spent a semester in Uganda, learning from Ugandan practitioners working in oftentimes very challenging situations.  

For anyone interested in learning more about the USP Social Work Emphasis, check out our website

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