New class applies social work to third world poverty

The newest social work class at Eastern is designed to bring students halfway around the world.

“They can immerse themselves in another culture and challenge their western thinking and their western theories,” said Monica Smith, social work faculty member and developer of the course.

An August 7-18 trip to the Zowe people of Malawi, Africa will make up the bulk of the new course, Social Work 230 D: Malawi, according to Smith.

The course was inspired by Smith’s trip to the same village last year with sociology, anthropology and missions faculty member Mike Mtika.

That trip took place under Mtika’s Tzomma Shoffa Initiative, which raises money to begin economically beneficial projects in Third World countries.

“When I participated in that trip, I learned that they were seeking to do social work, to seek balance and harmony between communities and individuals and governments,” Smith said.

Now, Smith is taking her own class there in order to teach them how to foster that harmony.

The students’ job will be to observe the culture and learn from the people about poverty and about how westerners can best help the people overcome that poverty.

“Hopefully we’ll understand them better so in the long run we can help the individuals there,” said sophomore Chris Franklin, who went on the trip.

Students will do so by living with families in the village and by talking with some government officials at the US embassy about poverty and the forces that shape it in Africa, according to Smith.

The purpose of this knowledge is to ultimately be able to help the Zowe people in a meaningful and nonpatronizing way.

“The basis of our work is building partnerships,” Smith said. “We will allow them to make the decisions that are best for their community.”

The class also hopes to set aside their cultural thinking and instead help the people find their own solutions to their poverty.

“We’re going to learn from the people there to uncover resources that are dormant in these communities and to help people mobilize their resources,” Smith said. “It’s a theme of empowerment.”

Another way the team plans to aid the Zowe people is through projects begun by Mtika and his class a year ago. These projects will include building a bridge, expanding a school farm and helping out at a health clinic.

Although the trip is based on social work and is not a missionary endeavor, according to Smith, the theme of God’s love will still be emphasized.

“I want to be able to provide them with some kind of hope,” said junior Stephanie Gaston, “to make them want to know God more because of the work we’re doing there.”

Smith sees social work and its application in Malawi as a good combination of the two goals of social work and Christian ministry.

Social work, and this course especially, does so by fulfilling Scripture’s call to end injustice, according to Smith.

“We look at poverty as our ultimate injustice,” she said. “It’s about standing on the Word of God and living for that.”

The rest of the new course will consist of meetings throughout the semester and presentations of the students’ learning through their choice of a term paper or a project.

Smith will welcome anyone who wants to go on the trip, whether or not that person plans to take the course for credit.

Those taking the trip are eager to go out and learn.

“I expect God to use each one of us to make some kind of difference while we’re there,” Gaston said.

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