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International Social Work

Ruth Berta
Ruth Berta, '12

Testimonies from Alumni

Ruth Berta 12

I completed my field placement at Hospice Africa Uganda in the spring of 2012 through the Uganda Studies Program (USP). This was the first time I really practiced viewing clients and coworkers as informants as I realized all I didnt know about both social work practice and the foreign culture I found myself in. I also dealt with the confusion of what my presence as a young, white woman meant for the population I was encountering. Did they see me as a donor? As a healer with all the answers? I quickly found the best thing I could offer those patients and their families was my presence and a smile. I could listen to their struggles, either directly or from an interpreter. Just by showing up and listening, I could show them that their health and wellbeing mattered and they deserved to be treated with dignity.

After I graduated, I returned to Uganda to work as a program assistant for USP. Suddenly the world shifted! I was no longer considered a student but was there to be a resource to students going through what I had just experienced. Part of my role was to liaise between some of the social work and other students and their field and volunteer experiences. I quickly found myself constantly reminding them of the dynamic nature of our profession and encouraged them to cease putting social work in the box with a label like counselor or clinician. I understood the frustration - they were tired of learning and wanted to DO social work. But I firmly believe that lifelong learning, active listening and simply showing up are three of the main skills of our great profession. And the beauty is that we can do these in a myriad of ways and settings and be called many things other than social worker. It is from this base that we empower others toward positive change.