Helping Pave the Way for Others

Jeane Anastas, PhD, LMSWFrom the President

Social work is a global profession, and NASW works to support the profession overseas and in its 56 chapters. As I wrote in a blog in August, the NASW Foundation’s Social Work Across Nations (SWAN) initiative has received a “twinning” project grant from the American International Health Alliance (AIHA), with funding from USAID, to assist in developing the social welfare workforce in Tanzania. Specifically, NASW is partnering with the Tanzanian Social Work Association (TASWO) to advance social work practice and education, as well as social welfare legislation and systems in that nation.

What TASWO is working on illustrates why professional social work associations are needed — not just for those who work in the field, but also to enhance the well-being of society, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Our visit to Tanzania was in conjunction with TASWO’s Annual General Meeting, which brings its membership together in Dar es Salaam. Presentations were given on models of regulation, quality assurance in social work education and practice, and workforce development used in the United States and elsewhere. We then met for two days of consultation with the executive committee of TASWO on their work in developing the organization and in obtaining the same level of governmental recognition and support for social work that other professions enjoy.

Observing TASWO’s work made me realize how much we in the United States take for granted because of all of the efforts here on behalf of the profession since the Progressive Era. Having finished establishing the bylaws of their own organization, TASWO is now crafting a code of ethics to raise the standard of practice and to enhance the public’s and the government’s view of social work. In Tanzania, it is the responsibility of the national government to legally define the nature and scope of social work practice, the education needed to be a social worker and the rights of the public with respect to social work services (registration or licensing). In addition, social work education, which is growing and expanding into new regions of the country, will come under the purview of the professional association, although this will be a separate entity of the association, Tanzania Emerging Social Work Education Program (TESWEP). Educational standards will be developed that are consonant with international norms for the profession. TASWO is currently drafting the federal legislation that will establish these structures for professional practice and professional education.

Looking forward, TASWO is planning for continuing professional education activities, the establishment of a social work journal, and a survey of the social welfare workforce in Tanzania to document the shortage of social workers and to describe the educational and professional needs of social workers now providing frontline services.

In one of the poorer nations of the world, it is easy to appreciate how the social work profession — both in providing services and in advocating for an adequate set of social policies and programs to form a basic “social safety net” for all — is so important to the well-being of society.

To illustrate, Tanzania is one of two African nations in which AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, and pervasive poverty adds to the toll the disease continues to take on individuals, families and communities.

Because of the epidemic, it is estimated that 13 percent of Tanzanians 16 and under have lost one or both parents. Antiviral medication is free to those who test positive, but many lack the means to travel to a clinic to receive it. More than 80 percent of the population in Tanzania works in the agricultural sector, manual labor that cannot be sustained when one is ill or giving care to a family member.

Providing social, emotional and tangible supports to individuals, families and communities affected by the epidemic; ensuring that substitute care (e.g. in orphanages) for sick or orphaned children meets adequate standards and has adequate funding; addressing problems like child labor, child-headed households and street children living on their own as well as the needs of grandparents now caring for their grandchildren — these are issues that social workers know how to address. The things that a professional association does are vital to all social workers wherever we practice.

We salute our colleagues in TASWO and commit NASW to continuing to strengthen social work here and abroad.