The Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, was one of the stops for the NASW People to People Social Work Delegation to India in February. The group also saw young Indian girls perform a dance, shown below.
The challenges facing India’s homeless populations can appear daunting to visitors. Participants of the NASW People to People Social Work Delegation to India, however, say innovative programs and the dedicated people behind them are making positive differences for those less fortunate.
NASW President Jeane Anastas and NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark led the professional exchange in February. Anastas said delegates witnessed countless examples of inventive social welfare services in the second-most populated country in the world.
“Among the standouts were two women with MSWs who were involved in homeless shelters in New Delhi,” she said. “For the homeless they had begun distributing Bubble Wrap rather than blankets to those sleeping outdoors.” Anastas said the social workers discovered that Bubble Wrap held superior benefits to blankets. They were less attractive for theft. They offered cushioning and resisted moisture.
“We can learn a lot from those who must do so much with so little,” Anastas said.
Delegates discovered that the same shelter administered a unique identification program for the homeless where participants can use their ID cards to open bank accounts. A goal is to be able to transfer welfare benefits to the cardholders.
Delegate Barbara Fleming-Claussen, a clinical social worker for Cathedral Counseling Center in Chicago, said she was impressed with this effort and the social workers supporting it.
“Their work with the homeless made so much sense and it made such a difference in people’s lives,” Fleming-Claussen said. “Their commitment was amazing.”
Besides homeless shelters, delegates made site visits to hospitals, schools and nongovernment agencies. In Jaipur, Clark said she was most impressed with the efforts by the NGO Jaipur Foot, which provides low-cost or free prostheses to those with leg amputations.
The prosthesis itself is made of inexpensive materials and clients are often measured and fitted in one day, Clark said.
“Their goal is to return the clients to a normal life, which helps restore their dignity,” she explained.
The program, which was launched by two brothers who wanted to make a positive change for others, has other benefits. About 10 percent of Jaipur Foot clients end up working at the facility, which also manufactures braces for people whose muscles have atrophied.
Clark said the humanitarian program has spread to more than 25 countries and has fitted limbs for nearly 21,000 people in countries other than India
“This was an inspirational testament to what a few dedicated people can do,” she said.
Delegate Jill Seibel, a health facility quality examiner for the state of Pennsylvania, said the professional exchange to India left her with a new respect for the country’s diverse culture. She also noted that many medical facilities feature modern technical advances.
In Jaipur, for example, delegates toured the Bhagwan Mahaveer Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, a 270-bed teaching hospital that provides free care if patients are unable to pay. It features two linear accelerators, a PET CT Scanner, a Gamma camera and four operating rooms.
“There are many people there who are working on ways to help people,” Seibel said. “I think they are moving in the right direction. They are moving forward, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
NASW has led previous social work delegations to Brazil, Russia, Cambodia, China, Egypt and South Africa as part of the Social Workers Across Nations initiative, or SWAN.
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