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Building social work capacity in Vietnam

By Sharon Gray | June 9, 2004

In Vietnam, Social Work is a new profession. With the help of Nursing and Social Work faculty from Memorial University, work is progressing to establish and accredited and government-approved School of Social Work in Hanoi. The project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

A delegation from Vietnam visited Memorial recently to visit social work agencies in the province and observe working methods used in Canada. Bui Thi Xuan Mai, deputy dean of the Department of Sciences and External Relations as well as a lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the College of Labour and Social Affairs, is the Vietnamese coordinator of this international project. “The job is hard but I am learning a lot and building good relationships with many other organizations in Vietnam,” she said.

Dr. Sharon Taylor, a faculty member in the School of Social Work at Memorial and co-director of the project, has worked closely with the Vietnam project team for the past three years. She explained that the project involves not only setting up a School of Social Work in Vietnam but also establishing a profession and identifying how social work can be applied in agencies in Vietnam. Nguyen Van Gia, chief of the Social Work Department at the College of Labour and Social Affairs, said establishing social work in the country has been a long time coming and he is pleased with the progress of the project.

Dr. Lan Gien, Nursing, has extensive experience with nursing development projects in Vietnam, and she is serving as a project director on this one, titled Poverty Reduction by Improving Social Workers and Health. The third Memorial faculty member involved with the project is Dr. Ken Barter, Social Work. During the past year he visited Vietnam twice, first to help set the project up and the second time to conduct three workshops on child welfare, rural social work, and a general workshop on the social work profession. “There are many challenges this group has identified in terms of introducing social work as a profession in Vietnam, but they are eager and enthusiastic.”
Vietnamese teachers of social work do not have degrees in social work but usually have backgrounds subjects like sociology or psychology. Nguyen Van Gia is a teacher in social work, but his degree is in sociology. His was attracted to the field of social work because he likes working with families.
In addition to building community capacity for social work in Vietnam, the project is also identifying Vietnamese students to do graduate work in Social Work. Because Memorial requires a bachelor of social work before entering a master's, these students will go to the University of Regina.

Midway through the project, everything seems to be progressing well. The new school of social work is dealing with many complex social issues, such as poverty and AIDS. The faculty in Vietnam are employing interdisciplinary and community-based approaches to capacity building within their school as well as within rural and urban communities. Dr. Barter emphasized that while the project is a full partnership with Memorial University and the College of Labour and Social Affairs, the Canadian participants are taking their direction from the leadership of the Vietnamese.