Dear friends Prof. H.M. Marulashiddaiah respected guests Mr. Rajasekharan, Dr. Sudarsan & Other Friends.
I would first of all like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to attend this programme and having been invited say a few words about Social Work from a Swedish perspective.
Thanks to prof. Marulasiddaiah and the organize of this event.
And as always I am impressed by the way that we are received here. We feel most welcome and everything is so well organized. I think I speak for my wife as well here.
Before I give you some pointers to the situation in Sweden regarding the Social Work field, it might be a good idea to say something about my university and our social work education.
I teach a Mid Sweden University which is a network university situated in three cities in what usually is spoken of as the North of Sweden. Even if it just is the geographical Middle of our country, That of course has to do with political and economical power being concentrated to the south, so everything that is north of our capital city Stockholm is often regarded as being the North.
Social Work education started in Ostersund, where we live and work, in 1971 and already in the late 70s the first students went aboard for their second field practice semester. At the time this was not fully accepted by everyone, even at our school. Many said that it was a waste of time and that u could no learn enough if u went to another country for Social Work training. But some lecturers and more and more students thought differently.
Of course nowadays, there is no such backward criticism of the activities surrounding field practice aboard. As a matter of fact, Mid Sweden University is supporting between 50 and 70 students every year that go abroad for field practice. Next year we will be able to celebrate the 1000th student going to another country for field practice. This makes our university unique.
This tradition is one of the reasons as to why I stand here today. In the late 1980s Swedish students started to come to Bengaluru and the little village of Hirekumbalagunte. This of course was thanks to the professor and Social Worker Mr. Kanni.
Two years ago I came to India for the first time in my life. We are a party of three from the university and we wanted to visit Swedish students in Pune, and then see if we could reunite with professor Marulasiddaiah and Mr. Kanni and pick up the cooperation that was interrupted in the middle of the 1990s. My two colleagues, Mrs. Carina Thorn and Mrs. Carina Thorn was one of the many students that did their field practice there. She was in the village 1989 and it was a heart-warming return for her and wonderful to see all the people again. Carina and Anneals send their warmest regards so you all.
One day when we were talking, the professor diad that all the student reports that were once written in Hirekumbalagunte, ought to be published, and I am not sure how he did it, he probably waved his magic wand, but I found myself having promised to see to do when I got home. But I was fortunate to be able to raise some money, and I got support from colleagues as well, and the book project was finished in spiring 2008.
The title of the book came to me in India already-Devotion and empowerment-and it refers to the fact that social work always must be characterized by these two concepts. This was not new to me, but the truth of it became very strong, when we visited people and places of Social Work here in India and talking to the professor and Mr. Kanni.
Devotion in Social Work; to people and their well being, to fundamental human rights and to the profession. Empowerment as a concept has to do with a basic principle in Social Work there can never be set aside and that is so easily observed in India: If people themselves want change, you can help them to trust their own capacity and abilities and by that overcome obstacles on the way. The Social Worker alone does not have the power to change things, but his or efforts can empower other people to do wonders.
Well, anyway. The book this is the reason why we have gathered here today, and the book made it possible for me to come back to India. Not only has the professor been able to convince an Indian publisher to publish the book in India, he can also celebrate one of his own publications being released today. A truly remarkable man, the professor.
When I came to India the first time I was struck by the fact that India is a country, or even continent, of contrast, of contradictions, of extremes. This experience I share with most western people suspect.
Going through a major city like for instance Bombay, the western observer immediately notices the differences in housing, fancy office buildings with lots of glass and trendy architecture may stand close to small tin sheds where people have no facilities for washing or cooking. Beside the fashionable movie theater there might be a heap garbage, and expensive cars mingle with worn out bicycles. Very poor people, tired beggars, both children and grown-ups, may be seen close to nice restaurants where the middle class people are having a globalized hamburger lunch.
Well, this was just mentioned to try and make you see a little what I see, and experience, because hat might not be exactly what you see and notice. And how we interpret what we see and experience-well, that’s another important issue. But I will not go into that now.
As I said, India may seem a country of contrasts, at least to me. I often make a point of this to my Swedish students, since I strong feel that through contrast and difference we can learn new things, provided that we keep an open mind. Facing diversity and dealing with it properly can be very helpful. This goes for all people, and it’s not just something for Social Work. I usually also point out that the profession of Social Work in Sweden can benefit from India. Social Work in Sweden has things to learn from India, this is very important.
When talking about differences and diversity I would also like to point out that I believe that people are in fact more similar than different in some fundamental ways. So called cultural differences are often exaggerated or blown up to extreme proportions. Yes of course I can see fo doing things may not be the same, but when it comes down to the really important things in life I believe we are very much alike. In this case I refer to things like looking out for and taking care of our children, a natural avoidance of using violence and being generally friendly to people we meet, the habit of sharing with others what you have even if it is little e.g. Swedish students of Social Work to go to the little village of Hirekumbalagunte in rural India, and feel that they are accepted and welcome and not in all aspects just strange, foreign and outside.
So while we can benefit from diversity, one of the things we can learn is that people in various parts of the world are very much similar when it comes down to things of basic importance.
Now, in Sweden we usually think of Social Work as something connected to the welfare state-a system of social insurances, pensions and commitments from society, state and local communities. The Social Work practiced by NGOs like the Red Cross or Churches are generally regarded as complementary contributions to the efforts of the welfare state. Saying back since the 1990s, and many people are upset by this, calling it dismantling or even abdication of the welfare state. Cut backs have been carried out for both unemployed and old people as well as other vulnerable groups of people, Even so, the welfare state continues to exist, and its fundamental parts are largely untouched. With this I mean that we still have e.g. health insurance for all, universal benefits for children, free meals for pupils in schools-everything funded by general taxes.
The typical Social Worker in Sweden is generally regarded as an expert in communication, talking to people that are involved in some in kind of problem, like criminal offences, abuse, economical problems, drinking or drug problem and soon-, rather regarded as that kind of person than someone who actually does something more practically. Well, you might take care of some paper work, visit people in their homes and such. Sometimes you would have to intervene e.g. to protect children, even against parents will-fortunately this is quite uncommon and not every Social Worker has experience of this.
The way we conduct Social Work in Sweden is obviously very much constituted by our country’s wealth and the and the welfare policy that has been a guiding star especially since the Second World War.
This is, as I understand it, not the case in India. A Social Worker here must be a lot more skilled in various areas and professions. A Social Worker- with a good sense of organizing people-can gain a lot from also knowing about teaching, health care, how to drill for water or arrange for taking care of garbage in a village. Social Work is much more characterized by developmental work and the creation of good living conditions. You may excuse my obvious ignorance on the subject social work in India; I hope I am not completely barking up the wrong tree.
My point here being just that it is necessary to understand that the content or meaning of Social Work may be very different depends on where in the world you are. The context, or the environment, the political, cultural and historical situation, determines the way that Social Work is carried out.
This is obvious thinking about Sweden and India-we would generally identify big contrasts and fin easily detectable. But even within Sweden this thinking has some bearing. It is a huge difference between working in a big city in Sweden, where globalization and multiculturalism may have a major impact on peoples everyday life, compared to the rural areas in the northern parts of Sweden. But even there, in small communities, globalization influences life. Refugees from many countries may be accepted to live there, creating a new situation, in some ways inspirational and refreshing, but unemployment and racism may also cause problems.
So therefore cultural sensitivity and knowledge is as important for Social Workers inside Sweden wherever they may live and work, as it is would they go abroad. And I believe that Social Work students going to other countries for field practice can learn a lot and that they bring it home for the profession to develop.
Well this said just to give you some background.
Now, how would I describe situation in Sweden when it comes to the social situation?
The government in Sweden publishes on a regular basis what is called a Social report. The most recent came out in 2006. The intention of this report is to give a broad overview of and shed some light on the welfare situation and risk factors for social problems.
The areas dealt with are
• the labour market situation.
• the extent and duration of poverty;
• residential segregating
• vulnerability of children and young people,
• social consequensnces of illness and
• the situation of older people.
Now looking a these headlines we understand that this social report is of some political nature. How we refer to different and things going on, very much affects the way we may deal with them. Therefore if you talk about residential segregation in Sweden, while others would emphasise recism, even structural racism built into the system, you may not end up wanting to do the same things to solve the problem. So reading th socia report from the government-for now being a right wing one-it might be a good thing remember that the interpretation of reality is a political action.
Well, anyway-According to this report the situation for Swedish people has improved in general since the recession in the 1990s. Most people have more money and a job. Unemployment figures have been a matter of discussion in Sweden, since you can deal with the numbers in different ways. A person, temporarily out of work, but attending a short educational course to improve skills in some area-is that an unemployed person? Some would say yes. Others no.
Anyway the unemployment figure in Sweden would be around 5 or 6 per cent as a whole but varies a lot between areas and groups of people. It can be as high as 20 or 25 per cent or even 50 in areas in the big cities and among young people from suburbs.
Another matter is also important to stress here.
For example being black or having a name with a foreign ring to it. like Mohamed or Ahmed, would often create a problem if you are looking for a job. People have been known to change their names to become more attractive on the labour market. There have been a number of cases uncovered by media where racism with employers has been obvious. It is if course not permitted to discriminate people in this way in Sweden. It is forbidden by law.
This problem is not mentioned in any substantial way in the social report. They do however point out the figures and admit that the situation for people born abroad is worse than for native-born Swedes when it comes to living conditions and unemployment.
I would say that this is a crucial area for Social Work-as well as other professions-in Sweden to deal with-segregation issues and racism. I fear that if we do not commit ourselves to anti-racism and anti-oppressive ways of working, we will face a sad and troublesome future.
However, in the spirit of internationalization, I believe that through developing bonds between Swedish people and people in other countries, we may obstruct racism and hostility and hopefully create a better future for all.
I hope this hag given you some information on Social Work in Sweden, more could have been said of course, but it I will end here.
Many thanks to the organizer of this programme and thank you for listening.
International Social Work- can refer to comparative social welfare or the examination and comparison of the social welfare systems in different countries (mostly in industrialized economies). It can also denote the work of Social Workers working in international organizations such as governmental or voluntary organizations, operating in, or interested in, the social development and welfare field, and to assist in the carrying out fo social planning, social development, social action and welfare programs sponsored by such organizations. Finally, international social work refers to practice in a country other than your own.
Definition of International Social Work
“The Social Work profession promotes change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behaviour and social systems, Social Work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human right and social justice are fundamental to Social Work.”
(Mr) Magnus Ottelid
International Coordinator Lecturer, MSSW
Department of Social Work, Mid Sweden University, 231 25 OSTERSUND, SWEDEN
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