(Part I) Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
Hello from Egypt,
Each year, as part of our Social Workers Across Nations (SWAN) program, NASW leads a delegation of social workers to a different country. Our goal is to further understand the role of social work in various countries and to look at similarities, differences and how NASW and US social workers can assist with capacity building for social work in other parts of the world.
This year, we are visiting Egypt. We have been in two cities — Cairo and Alexandria — and have had the opportunity to meet with academics and practitioners in various programs, especially NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
No matter where we travel, I am always struck by the similarity of barriers faced by social workers. Egypt is no exception. We were fortunate to meet with Dr. Hoda Badran, formerly a professor and currently the chairperson for the Alliance for Arab Women, who would like to see unified standards for social work education around the world. Egypt also has issues with not enough social work faculty and with finding adequate supervision for field placements.
We were privileged that Egypt’s Minister of Solidarity decided to attend our meeting and address us personally. He is one of 32 ministers in the country. Perhaps his role is most similar to our Secretary of Health and Human Services. One of their goals is to reduce poverty by 50% by 2015 — a major challenge for the country. 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.
Without visiting, it’s hard to imagine the sheer numbers of people living within such a contained area. Cairo has 20 million citizens — practically twice the size of NYC. The city’s infrastructure is not adequate for so many individuals. Traffic is almost indescribable, yet it seems to flow. Drivers seem less aggressive here than in our country, and everyone seems to realize that orderly merging of traffic is essential.
Cairo only gets 4-5 days of rain per year, and I don’t think I had ever really thought about the role of rain in helping keep our environment clean. Litter and sand are everywhere. Pollution is a problem, and poverty is pervasive. Many families live on the equivalent of $100-150 per month.
Perhaps one of our delegates, Larry Higginbottom from Massachusetts, said it best. He traveled with us last year to South Africa, and sees similarities among all three countries. He noted that the problems faced in each country are very much alike, and that “people everywhere are just trying to get by.”