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Nobel vocation.

Nepal, April 30 -- Recently Nandita Das, the Indian actress of art-house cinema fame, was in Nepal. In her discussions and interviews, she was heard mentioning the term 'social work' quite often. A Master's degree holder in Social Work, she said that her experience of working with women and children and the other sobering social realities she faced directly impacted the decisions she made as an actor and as a conscious human being.

I have a Bachelor's degree in Social Work as well and I would like to say that the kind of exposure that social work education provides shapes an individual's outlook towards life and the society at large. There is hope for the future when academic training is geared towards building instead of labelling clients, empowering instead of victimising families.

Many recent intermediate-level pass outs have asked me time and again whether 'social work' is a good education choice and what impact this line of work will have in their future. A lot of young people aspire to take up the profession of social work fuelled by the expectations of family and society who believe that a job in an NGO or an INGO (which grow like mushrooms in Nepal) will do the trick-name and financial security all at once. But if you think that social work is all about the dollar-kheti, I would like to differ.

Modern society is a maze of problems. Within this maze, social work is a helping profession whose methods focus on interaction between man and his environment in a complex system of social welfare services, reflecting and determining the larger social, economic, political and cultural setting which are deeply rooted in the nature of man and his multifaceted efforts to cope successfully with the demands of a complex environment.

Is social work just about alms, charity, poverty relief, philanthropy and social reform? If it is, I don't need a degree in social work; perhaps a bank account and a bit of concern for human life is more than enough, isn't it? I have had people who have said that to me but no, it isn't that! Societies are complex and urbanised, and a contradicting sphere also exists in rural settings with their own sets of traditional structures and orthodox beliefs that give rise to considerable social dysfunction. From individuals to families to groups to communities to countries to the world at large, people strive to do away with the identified dysfunctions at all levels. This calls for institutionalised measures of facilitating social adjustment and for intervention in areas of social dysfunction-the answer to which lies in the profession of social work.

Mary Richmond once said, "A good social worker doesn't go on helping people out of a ditch. Pretty soon she begins to find out what ought to be done to get rid of the ditch." This to me holds the essence of what social work entails at large. Social work isn't just about charity or organising major advocacy based rallies. The profession entails working with a wide range of issues and so a wide range of people-society being the centre of it all. In our introductory classes in BSW (Bachelor's in Social Work), our teacher always told us that social work is about 'head, heart and hand'-a head that rationalises problems and needs and solutions, a heart that emphasises, and a hand that actually brings about that change-no matter how small it is!

These days, the number of students who enroll in social work courses has grown tremendously. The number of colleges offering these courses has also gone up. Entry into the profession of social work is more than a couple of charities here and there and just a bit of voluntary services. That may be why we fail to understand that in a context like ours-where problems are multifold and where, irrespective of the level of effort to solve them-no concrete change ever takes shape.

Social work, as such, is a discipline with a broad scope. It deals with people and society at large with a knowledge base that changes constantly and is far from developed. Our existence, after all, is a constant attempt to understand ourselves, our society and its problems at large. There is a lot of criticism no matter what you do and explicit practical guidelines hardly exist. One has to have the ability to tolerate ambiguity, responsibility, pressure and criticism and only then will this area of work bring satisfaction. If one wants to help people and improve their level of functioning, then this job will not be a disappointment.

We complain of systems, we find faults in social functionings, and we see problems. Social work as an educational discipline and as a professional pursuit perhaps enables us to look for solutions. Humans cannot do away with their humanity, but being a part of a profession considered the most humane of all can be a highly satisfying pursuit. To the young minds who believe in Mahatma Gandhi's adage of "be the change you want to see", I would say, if you have the will to do that, welcome aboard!

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Publication:Kathmandu Post (Kathmandu, Nepal)
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Apr 30, 2010
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