Seeing Through the Eyes of Others

James J. Kelly, Ph.D., ACSW, LSCWFrom the President

Being a part of the 19th World Conference of Social Work was an honor, and I want to thank the community of Brazilian social workers, of which about 2,300 attended despite the significant expense. Not only did our Brazilian colleagues attend, but also they actively participated and stayed through the end of presentations. As one of the last presenters before the closing event, I was gratified to be greeted with a full venue. The Brazilians were anxious to talk about distance education and concern about its overuse; it is being promoted in lieu of traditional levels of fieldwork. Their social work faculty speakers were excellent, and I was fascinated by the liberation theology philosophy regarding the role of social work in freeing disenfranchised people.

It was exciting to be with social workers from around the globe. There were more than 900 works presented from among the 42 countries represented. While in Bahia, I met with the African, Canadian, and Chinese delegations. International social workers want to know the United States' perspectives and why we do things the way we do. I spent time with the American delegation and the Danish delegation. I also had wonderful conversations with Singapore and Chinese representatives because of my previous work in those parts of the world. I was most fortunate to be assisted by Luisa Lopez of our national staff, as well as Elvira Craig de Silva and Gary Bailey, both former NASW presidents.

The conference provided excellent networking opportunities, but I was struck that it seemed controlled by the developed world. It is imperative that we do a better job of involving the developing world. The roll call of nations was very moving though I couldn't help but notice that when the United States was called, the reception was polite, but unenthusiastic.

Having just participated in the first ever NASW Virtual Delegate Assembly on Aug. 8 and 9, I was able to compare its efficacy to this face-to-face opportunity. IFSW discussions were translated into English, French, and Spanish. This left the Japanese and Chinese delegations at a great disadvantage. What little debate took place, occurred in English. Language barriers and the lack of advance availability of discussion content effectively limited what the group could accomplish. Had all delegations had information in advance, the translation issues for planned presentations would have been dramatically reduced. Indeed, had the delegates been able to communicate online with translators at their sides, the language barriers might have been eliminated for both planned and impromptu discussion. Just as we passed policies in our NASW assembly, IFSW passed new or updated policies regarding genocide, aging, health, and cross-border reproductive services.

As I discussed in my September 2008 column, many of our clients and some of our fellow social workers are in dire economic straits. There are simply too many zeroes to wrap my brain around as I try to understand how the U.S. government plans to bail out profit-driven companies. Why have they been so uninterested in bailing out individuals in need? We need your strong support of the Social Work Reinvestment Act; moving this legislation forward benefits social workers and the people who need our assistance.

When I participate in future international forums, online perhaps, I hope there will be a renewed appreciation of the United States' role as a champion of the underrepresented at home and abroad. As you read this, we are on the other side of the United States presidential election. I can only hope that whoever won will work with our nation's social workers to provide better services that help families, particularly families in poverty, to survive.

Finally, as the holidays approach, I'd like to ask members to consider giving an NASW membership to another social worker. It is truly a gift that will reward us all.