International Social Work is a subject that cannot be explained by reading a book or listening to a lecture; it is an area one must experience en vivo! This summer, Sadie Ferguson and Corrie van Amerongen, both second-year MSW students, had the incredible opportunity of experiencing international social work in Nicaragua. For one month, the students learned about the tumultuous history of Central America’s poorest country and witnessed the social movements of the ruling Sandinista party.
Stationed in the nation’s colonial capitol of León, Sadie and Corrie got to know the historic city, as well as the national university, Universidad Nacional Auntónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) -León. With the help of UNAN’s social work department, the students were fortunate enough to visit various social work agencies throughout the region.
“Learning about the presence of social services in other countries where they may have less resources, but more community support in the case of Nicaragua, was the most interesting part for me,” said van Amerongen. “The struggle for social work practitioners was capitalizing on that community support in order to make bigger changes.”
Ferguson and van Amerongen also sat in on social work classes in Spanish, visited a state-run outreach center for women and children suffering from domestic violence, led a presentation on grants for a university level social work class, and conducted interviews on social work in Nicaragua with faculty members. During their time in Leon, the two students lived with host families, which provided them with an invaluable cultural perspective and daily language practice.
“Living with a large family of about 12 people definitely gave me the opportunity to improve my Spanish and allowed me to gain confidence with the language during interviews in the field,” said Ferguson. “Also, there really is no better way to learn about a culture than to live the culture. Our host-family experiences definitely helped us to live the “Nica” culture!”
Ferguson and van Amerongen also had the chance to visit many other interesting places within Nicaragua, one being a city to the North of León called El Sauce. During this visit, the two were also supporting Dr. Olate’s research about risk behaviors and resilience. They conducted interviews with local school directors and school counselors to get their perspective on risk-factors in school-aged children. Currently El Sauce’s Ministry of Education is working to develop a plan to retain more students through middle and high school and thus the topic was a concern for all of the schools in the area.
During the final days of the trip, Ferguson and van Amerongen were invited to attend the First Annual International Congress on Social Work. Dean Gregoire represented Ohio State’s College of Social Work and spoke about potential partnerships between OSU and UNAN-León. Olate gave a presentation entitled “Research and Social Interventions for at-risk Adolescents.” The congress at the end of the trip was an ideal way to reflect on the month’s experiences and learn more about progressive changes within the context of social work in Nicaragua.
– Story submitted by Sadie Ferguson and Corrie van Amerongen