NASW delegation observes country’s programs, culture

Oct 9, 2012

By Rena Malai, News staff

Discovering South Africa’s social work voice was the theme of the People to People delegation trip in August, which included NASW CEO Elizabeth J. Clark and 10 NASW members from various roles in interdisciplinary care.

The delegation co-leader was John Mastrojohn, III, senior vice president of the Office of Philanthropy at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and executive director of the National Hospice Foundation and FHSSA.

“As a delegation, we were there to learn and be NASW ambassadors,” Clark said.

The delegation stands in front of a playroom for dying children at the Clairwood Hospital in Durban. Sithandeni means “we love them.”

Starting in Durban, the delegation wound its way through villages where they mingled with members of the Zulu tribe and became acquainted with the social work roles in South Africa.

Clark said 51 percent of the country’s population lives on less than a dollar a day. Many people in the Zulu community have no indoor plumbing and walk great distances for basic necessities. But the community thrives on spirit, she said, and they make do.

“The Zulu have a profound resiliency,” she said.

The delegation made a visit to the Bigshoes Foundation in Durban, a nonprofit organization that a group of women established to help young, vulnerable children in life-shortening situations live as productively as possible.

“It is astounding what this organization is able to do for these children,” Clark said. “Many of them have AIDS, have been abandoned by their families or have tragic physical conditions to cope with. But the idea is that the children should have the best life they possibly can, no matter how short.”

One new challenge South Africa faces, the delegation discovered, is an increase in cases of drug-resistant, HIV-related tuberculosis. During a conversation at Helderberg Hospice in Cape Town, the group learned how staff members are trained to deal with the risk.

“They are told to talk to clients in open spaces or outside, recognizing signs and symptoms, and taking precautions regarding their own health,” Clark said.

Despite the cultural differences, Clark said she quickly noticed the similarities between hospice care in the U.S. and South Africa — and the challenges both countries face.

“The hospice concept and philosophy, the use of a multidisciplinary team, and providing bereavement care were quite similar,” she said. “They also have similar workforce shortages with a great need for nurses, social workers and physicians trained in palliative medicine.”

From the October 2012 NASW News. NASW members click here for the full story.