Delegation Explores Egypt

Floyd Allen interacts with childrenSocial work delegate Floyd Allen interacts with children at the Awlady Orphanage in Egypt, one of several site visits.

As part of the Social Workers Across Nations, or SWAN, initiative, NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark led a People to People social work delegation to Egypt in October.

The trip was the latest social work exchange involving NASW that promotes greater understanding of the profession among countries.

Twenty-five social workers participated in the delegation that visited Egypt's ancient cities of Cairo and Alexandria.

Clark noted that Cairo continues to make strides into the future while facing the challenges of overpopulation with its 20 million residents. "It is practically twice the size of New York City," she said.

The delegates met with Egypt's Minister of Solidarity, Ali Al Sayed Ali Al Muselhi, whose position was created in 2005 to help raise the country's standard of living.

"Their goal is to reduce the number of poor households by 50 percent by 2015," Clark noted.

The minister told the delegates that change is needed and that Egypt's challenges do not all result from a lack of money. Efforts are under way to help families most in need, the minister told the group. The office plans to create a policy that addresses housing, health, transportation and opportunities for work for the least-developed villages, the minister told attendees.

There are 27,000 non-governmental organizations in Egypt and they serve as a vital part of the country's plan to raise its living standards.

"The minister well understood the role of and need for social workers and said they would welcome the input of social workers and NGOs from other countries," Clark explained.

The delegates made site visits to several medical facilities, which are typical places of employment for social workers in Egypt. One was the recently opened Children's Cancer Hospital Egypt, modeled after St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in the United States. Children are treated for free at the state-of-the-art center, which was built from the proceeds of a successful fundraising campaign. Its psychosocial care unit is headed by a psychiatrist and includes a small staff of social workers. Representatives told the delegates they would welcome any assistance in learning more about psychosocial oncology.

On another trip, the delegation met with staff from the Suzanne Mubarak Regional Center for Women's Health and Development in Alexandria. Mubarak is the first lady of Egypt.

"Their outreach and community organizing focus on reaching school teachers, social workers and NGOs to get women referred to the center," Clark said.

She added that one of the goals of the facility is to address domestic violence and to encourage women to break away from the stigma of keeping it a secret.

"They are also training doctors to detect battering and Mrs. Mubarak has created a Women's Council to help battered women with legal problems," she said.

Annette Loso, program coordinator for Intensive Family Based Services at Rutland Mental Health in Vermont, was among the social work delegates.

"What surprised me most about Egypt is how some things are virtually unchanged from biblical times," Loso said, noting that she had expected to see evidence of greater progress for women.

"Although there were traces of forward movement, I was surprised by the degree to which women are still oppressed," she said. "I was very surprised by how closely the people follow American politics. I was asked numerous times about my opinion of the proposed health care plan and other issues."

At another site visit, the delegation met with the social work faculty at Helwan University. Clark noted that the school uses American social work textbooks for guidance. The texts they use include the Council on Social Work Education standards and the latest version of the "Encyclopedia of Social Work," published by NASW Press and Oxford University Press.

"We discussed the challenges facing social work in our respective countries," Clark explained. "One theme in common was the need for a clearer public understanding of what social workers do."

After the meeting, the delegates were interviewed by Nile Television and were asked their opinions of Egypt's progress.

"Since traveling to Cambodia and now to Egypt, I have become much more aware of America's responsibility to the rest of the world," Loso said.

Delegate Linda Engel, a psychiatric social worker, said she has attended three previous social work delegations. "It's been inspiring to get an inside view and exchange ideas with other social workers," she said.

Engel explained that she was surprised to find that Egyptian residents typically do not struggle with alcohol or drug addiction in comparison to the United States.

"Because of the Muslim religion, they don't drink and they don't act out in a sexual way," she said. On the other hand, domestic violence appears to be a large issue, she noted.

There are positive steps being made in social work, she noted: "Seeing [that] the one school had our books and encyclopedia — it seems they are really looking at the U.S. as a model. The students were very interested in us."

Engel said the social work exchange opens communication between the U.S. and other countries and it helps develop SWAN and similar programs.

Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt in CairoSocial work delegates visited Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt in Cairo. It is modeled after St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the U.S.

"If we get to know each other more and get along better, then there is more compassion for each other's problems," she added.

Delegate Maria Othman-Warren, a psychiatric social worker, said the trip provided opportunities to meet with other professionals at different levels of social services. It allowed for a better understanding of social work from another culture and country's perspective, she said.

She said she hoped the exchange will improve awareness in the U.S. and Egypt about each other's requirements in delivering social work services across the board. "I hope there is an opportunity to have continued dialogue around the needs of each country," she said.

NASW and People to People Ambassador Programs have led previous delegations to South Africa, Cambodia and China.

Clark said Egypt, like other countries NASW has visited, is making progress in promoting social work education and the profession. However, she said, she has gained a better understand that each country has its own culture and needs.

"How we do things here might not work somewhere else," she said. "Social work has to be tailored to fit the cultural component."