Developing Social Work Education in Laos and Learning from the Vietnamese
Xuyen Dangers – Vietnam
Xuyen Dangers – Vietnam/Laos
The Faculty of Social Sciences at the National University of Laos (FSS/NUOL) began consulting Global Ministries Social Worker, Xuyen Dangers, in the spring of 2005 regarding the development of a Social Worker training curriculum at the University. By the fall of the year FSS/ NUOL had written a curriculum of Sociology and Social Development. However, the Faculty had no professionally trained social work educator.
There are no professional Social Workers in Laos, so Xuyen organized an exposure trip for two members of the faculty to see the Social work education of a neighboring country.
The purpose of the trip was to observe Social work Education and Social work Practice in Vietnam. On this occasion, in Ho Chi Minh City, these two Lao University educators attended the International Social Work Celebration/Workshop held on 12 November 2005 at the Open University in Ho Chi Minh City that gathered many professional Social work educators and direct practitioners as well as students majoring in social work. The theme of the celebration this year was Social work with children in difficult circumstances. Global Ministries provided the funds that enabled Mr. Phout and Mr. Saychai to make this trip. While at the Workshop, the two men met with educators of Ho Chi Minh Open University, Dalat University, Dong thap University, Van Hien University, Social Development Research Consultancy (SDRC), and Hanoi National University, Hanoi Pedagogy University and other institutions as well as professionals of International NGOs. We met with many social work students and social work practitioners, social work field instructors at social work agencies and observed how active and involved they are.
The Lao team was invited to speak about Social work in Laos. Mr. Phout presented the newly written curriculum of FSS and Xuyen was able to present later in the group discussion a bit of her SW experiences in Lao of the past 10 years and how she got invited to be the advisor for FSS. The Lao team was also given a stall as we had brought some Lao products presenting the rich culture such as Lao textile of scarves for men and women, a book “Tammakhung Forever” and crafts made by children at the Global Ministries supported Children’s Development Centers were on display and for sale. The display attracted many viewers and buyers, The afternoon of Sunday was spent in Xuan Thu bookstore which Xuyen consider it a study tour. On Monday we visited the Department of Sociology (which is beginning to be called Social Work this year) at the Open University. We met with Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Lam, Head of the Department, Mr. Le chi An of Academic Affairs and Ms. Ha from the Field Work Program. Earlier we also met with Mr. Nghia, the Vice Head of the Department and a sociologist; Ms Nhan, Field work; and another Ms Nhan who has been the Field Work Coordinator since the beginning of the establishment of the Women Studies Program in 1992.
At the tiny office of Mr. Lam the Lao team was able to ask many questions related to curriculum, field work and practical training for new teachers as well as research and book writing. The Lao team admired the great volumes of social work and related field books that are written by the faculty members since the establishment of Women studies. I still remember in 1992 there was one book (“Participatory Education” by Mme Nguyen Thi Oanh) and now there are at least 100 titles to use as text books and reference books. A few books are translated from western writers. Most are written using Vietnamese case studies which is very valuable for these students.
The Open University has about 400 students. Each year about 50-80 have graduated since 1996. The Sociology/ Social Work has big field work program. There are about 30 Social work field instructors who supervise 200 students in many Social Work agencies in every semester.
We were also amazed to hear that the faculty members have a very heavy workload not only at the university itself but they have many more tasks outside. They are invited to teach short term courses, go to other universities and agencies throughout Vietnam to teach and to hold workshops and conduct research. They also network with International Federation of Social workers-IFSW- and International Association of Schools of Social work IASSW- as well the Asian Pacific Association of School of SW.
One more special opportunity for us during that morning was that we had a chance to briefly visit The Rector of the Open University, Mr. Le Bao Lam again in his office. Mr. Le B. Lam offered some scholarships for some Lao students which we are most appreciated. In the afternoon we visited the Center for Social work and Community Development Research and Consultancy (SDRC). The agency has found by Mme Nguyen thi Oanh more then 15 years ago under the Education and Psychology Association. In November 2001, the SDRC received a license and is now operated under the supervision of the HCM Department of Science Technology. It is now headed by Mr. Binh as director and an Advisory board. During the visit Mr. Phouth has asked Mr. Binh of how SDRC is sustainable? Mr. Binh said “We work with commitment not with money” and I added “also with good leadership, good team work and professionalism and has had a inspiring advisor, mentor , Mme Oanh who has been the driving force in social work and Community Development in Vietnam for the past 50 years.” Eight of the 17 staff holds Master degrees, 8 with BA in Social work, Sociology or Community development and related fields.
SDRC professional teams are in demand for Training. They travel all over Vietnam to do workshops on many subjects like Introduction to Social Work, Gender Issues, Child rights, Community Development, Social Research, Counseling, Leadership and Conflict management. The methods of teaching/ training are very participatory and creative. SDRC is often consulted by World Bank, International NGOs, local agencies, schools and institutions in both the government and private sectors. Many social works students are sent to practice field work at SDRC and professional staff are supervisors/ field instructors or as thesis advisors.
SDRC’s Resource center has over 2,000 quality social work books, magazines and related field in Vietnamese, French and English including Children, Women, Community, Training, Saving and Credit, Health, Education, Migration, Trafficking, Child work, Street children, Child Labor, Family, Prostitution, Drug abuse, HIVAIDS and Reproductive Health. It is considered the best library in the region according students, lecturers and researchers and social work, CD and Development practitioners.
SDRC also has a regular monthly Social Work Newsletter – Ban Tin CTXH- very professionally written by social workers and educators. The newsletter helps me keep up-to-date while I have been the lone social worker in Lao of the past 10 years.
After visiting some project sites, Mr. Phout said that this is eye opening for him. As a lecturer working in the university setting, he had never had such a chance to see these realities and observe how social workers work in such circumstances. This opportunity had a profound impact on him and on the whole team from Laos.
In Lao at FSS/NUOL the first batch of 25 students enrolled this year who aim to graduate as social workers started their classes in November 05. Global Ministries provided scholarship for 10 of these students. These scholarships recipients have been village volunteers in the Children’s Development Centers for at least two years. My dream of having a Social Work course at the University of Lao has come true. Now my next dream is that in 5 years we will witness about 20 Lao students who graduate as Lao social workers for the first time at the NUOL!
Xuyen Dangers (MSW)
PS: after 5 days the two Lao teachers returned to Laos while I proceed to Ben Tre province to observe a project on Loan and Saving facilitated by Ms Nen, a senior Social worker who works with The Phong CONG Tac Xa Hoi (Social work office) in Ho Chi Minh City. I witnessed a very successful project managed by Catholic sisters who are professional social workers also. I also had a greatest time and it is eye opening for me to see how rich and fertile the Delta Region of Vietnam is. In these two villages, I see people are poor but rich with water, fruit trees and clean air!
Xuyen Dangers is a Social Worker in Laos/Vietnam. She serves as a Social work supervisor of Donkoi child center and 5 other centers, Social work advisor, Faculty of Social Sciences, and the National University of Laos.