After a particular session of my Program Evaluation class I was so moved that I wrote a long email to my family about what I experienced. You might be wondering what it is about program evaluation that could have had such an impact. Well here’s the deal: my program evaluation teacher evaluates various social service projects in Israel, which is already quite impressive to me, and therefore travels to Israel regularly. At one point she met a woman named Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, a Bedouin woman. In that class session we got to Skype with her and the word impressive does not begin to describe this amazing woman.
To begin she was the fifth daughter in her family. In a culture where males are highly valued this was not such a positive thing therefore she was named Amal, which means ‘hope’ in the hope that her parents would have sons. Following Amal the next five children were sons! But Amal proved that there was more to her than being a harbinger of male children. She avoided the traditional route of a Bedouin girl, which would have meant spending most of her time in the kitchen with her mother, and began shepherding at age 5. In this capacity she would wander alone around the Negev desert with her flock. She said that she developed a language with them and that this was her first foray into community organizing. She also learned, through the support of her grandmother, to be loud in front of men even though her mother disapproved.
Eventually Amal got an undergraduate degree in social work in Israel and a graduate degree in community organizing in Canada. She informed our class that in most cases, like that of most students at our school, students learn to bring theories to their future experiences. However Amal expressed how she had to bring her experiences to the theories she was learning in school and sometimes there was no theory for what she had experienced.
The program (see a full description at the end of this post) that this interview focused on was one that she had developed for single Bedouin women, whose husbands left them for one of the husband’s other wives. But since these women were not legally divorced (something the women were unable to ask for because they risked losing custody of their children) the Israeli government would not provide them with public benefits. These women needed support. Amal also became aware of another issue. The Bedouin children in this small village were provided hot meals in school by the Israeli government. But the children did not like the hot lunches that were provided because it was not the food they were accustomed to. Amal found a way to bring these needs together into an opportunity, she decided to set up a kitchen where these women could cook and run a catering business that provided meals for their children in school.
Originally when she told the Israeli Ministry of Education her plan they informed her that the kitchen would have be open at least two years to meet the requirements. But Amal explained the situation to the Minister and he found a way to approve it. Now Ministry buys meals from this kitchen for distribution to the schools in that village (Hura). The children eat and enjoy the food and the women are independent and making money.
The kitchen now earns a profit and these women have decided to regularly share some of the proceeds, the most recent fund was for a scholarship for Bedouin girls to go to college.
At the beginning the local men vandalized the kitchen. But Amal organized a meeting where the men were included, when they had not been originally. She learned that this was all they really wanted, they wanted to be heard because they were struggling with joblessness as well. Amal pointed out that you cannot do community work if certain members of the community are excluded. Now these women employ local men who do jobs like delivering the meals. Other Arab villages have become interested in replicating the program including Rahat, the largest recognized Bedouin village in Israel.
Amal spent 3 years navigating the bureaucracy of it all to accomplish this. When they had to put the kitchen in an area that did not get electricity she called the appropriate ministry, met the minister, explained how it did not make sense that there was no electricity in an area where more jobs could be created and within a week they got the electricity installed. Now various businesses thrive there including businesses that have sprung up to support the kitchen so now they do not need to go outside of Hura for many of their supplies. It is very self-sustaining.
This woman travelled all around Israel to make this happen and though there were a lot of issues she was able to convince these various ministers and government officials to support this endeavor. Hura has become a success story not only for Bedouin women but for Arab villages in Israel as well.
A lesson Amal shared with us was that if you do not find the answers you want, create them.
Please visit these sites for more information on Amal and her work:
Eleven single mothers (widows, divorcees and women whose husbands have taken second and third wives and left them and their children without support) from the townships of Hura were trained as caterers during 2005-6, in preparation for the establishment of catering enterprises in their towns. These enterprises will provide hot meals for school children as part of the national “hot meal” plan in the primary school system. This project was made possible by the support of the UJA Federation of New York, The Royal Embassy of the Netherlands and the Levi Lassen Stichting.
The Hura catering enterprise, which will provide approximately 3,500 daily meals contracted for by the Hura municipality, was renovated and equipped to meet the standards of the Ministry of Health. In addition to the lunch meals for school children, the women will also open up a restaurant that will serve the people working in the industrial area, where the catering enterprise is located. During its first three years of operation, this business will be run by a ‘public benefit company’, after which it will become a cooperative, owned by the women themselves.
This summer I have the great pleasure of interning at the Midtown Community Court. It is a fascinating project and first of its kind “problem-solving court” that deals mainly with the arraignment of violations and misdemeanors in Midtown Manhattan (catchment area includes roughly 14th St to 86th St from Lexington Ave to the Hudson River). There are many wonderful things I could say about this court and I am very tempted to go into exhaustive detail about its jurisdiction and organization…the kind of information that I get excited about and everyone else seems to glaze over for when I ramble on about it. So I will try to focus this post.
There is one program in particular that I would like to talk about: Dad’s United for Parenting or D-UP. This program works with non-custodial fathers many of whom have some interaction with the criminal justice system. I am still new and not involved in the program so I am lacking on many of the details but I know that they run group and individual counseling sessions with the fathers, have employment and financial training and assistance, an attorney that helps the fathers understand the maze that is the court system and more specifically the family court system and various other features. What I believe is the most important aspect is the support the program provides for these men and the encouragement toward building healthy relationships with themselves, their children, and their partners.
I had the honor of attending the D-UP graduation on Thursday, June 23 at John Jay College. It was amazing to witness. The camaraderie between the fathers was palpable and the bond between the fathers and the staff was not only apparent but also moving. Lives had been touched on both ends. The fathers had their children and other family members and friends present making this event feel like so much more than a formal affair. I felt like I was watching one very big family celebrate a significant milestone.
There are many groups that need support in our country. I believe any program that inspires and promotes healthy family building (while acknowledging that families can look any number of ways) is an important space for social workers, and anyone for that matter, to be involved in. There are fathers that strive to be a part of their children’s lives but struggle for various reasons. This includes attempting to maintain a job that can sustain child support while spending time with their children and supporting themselves. D-UP does a wonderful job of addressing this population of fathers.
To wrap this up I am including the D-UP pledge, as it conveys what this program works to achieve.
I am here to:
I. Be more involved in the life of my children, both financially and emotionally
II. Find stable employment
III. Enhance my parenting skills
IV. Improve my self-awareness
V. Learn how to become an engaged father
VI. Respect my needs and the needs of my family
VII. Enhance my communication skills with my child and spouse/co-parent
VIII. Learn constructive ways to discipline my child
IX. Understand the major barriers to nurturing parenting
X. Understand my family roots and heritage
I attended a screening and panel discussion of “Boys and Men Healing,” a documentary about male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The event was held as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and organized by the Men’s Peer Education Program at Columbia University and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC). It was co-sponsored by the Columbia University School of Social Work Men’s Caucus and MaleSurvivor.org.
Phew…credits done. Now the meat. What a film and what an event. Overall striking in a number of ways especially in bringing to light the unique and profound experience of males who have been sexually abused and the needs they have that go largely unmet or unrecognized. In addition, as a social work student I became aware of the pivotal role social workers can and do play in this area. Social workers should feel empowered to know that a social worker founded the CVTC at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and social workers are very involved with MaleSurvivor. But the need is still there.
The film followed three adult survivors. It explored the history of their abuse, how it affected them and where they are now. All three men are doing work to heal themselves and others. At the beginning of the film was a poignant line from one of these three, Tony Rogers; “Childhood rape separated me from my spirit.” This quote embodies the disempowering effect of such heinous acts. A common theme for male victims is the fear and discomfort in seeking help and the emasculation that is associated with reaching out for assistance. But Rogers put it best when he stated “I didn’t know asking for help would make me powerful.” He went on to help form a group of male survivors who share their experiences and support each other. The footage of the group was especially moving and was a hopeful sight.
Survivor David Lisak is currently a successful forensic psychologist. Perhaps the most compelling moment of the film for me was watching Lisak visit a client in prison who was on death row. This man was also a survivor of sexual abuse but clearly his life took a very different path than Dr. Lisak’s. Watching them communicate and share through safety class and bars made me wish I could paint or draw to truly capture that image and feelings I had from observing it. Both men had vicious acts perpetrated against them and it lead to their being on opposite sides of those bars, opposite sides of life, one man became a healer and advocate and the other a murderer and silenced even further. Dr. Lisak made it clear though that it is a fine line that separates these two paths.
Near the end of the film Mark Crawford, one of the men featured in the film and a panelist at the discussion stated, “Men need to have hope, and when you have hope you will heal.” Hope is key but those labeled victims often have trouble finding that hope and they should not be alone in trying to attain it.
On January 29, 2011 I had the pleasure to help facilitate Columbia University School of Social Work’s (CUSSW) first ever skills-based conference on criminal justice titled “Removing the Bars.” The Criminal Justice Caucus at CUSSW, of which I am a member put together and sponsored this conference that despite some resistance and numerous logistical considerations proved to be a great success. The conference was a full day of workshops, a panel of formerly incarcerated individuals and their family discussing their experiences, and a plenary session on the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” where The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-NY presented. Among my responsibilities I was able to recruit my professor, Markus Redding JD MSW to speak on the problem solving courts of New York City and how social workers are, can be, and should be involved the court system.
The conference brought in students from various schools, professionals in the fields of law, social work, and criminal justice as well as community members. The diversity of attendance spoke to the need for these issues to be explored and part of the beauty of the conference was that new or uncovered issues were raised that can be addressed at future events. At the end of the day I let out a giant sigh of relief and satisfaction. It was a lot of work that proudly exemplified collaboration across caucuses at CUSSW and I believe the work was all worth it. I look forward to helping bring the conference back in future years. Check out the Criminal Justice Caucus blog to read more about it.
We also had really cool t-shirts!
As I have mentioned I have begun studying for my master’s degree in social work. I will nonchalantly remind everyone that I am pursuing this degree at Columbia University. Do pride and arrogance really have to look that much alike? Since October 2007 I had been working at the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center. Nice name yet somewhat inadequate description for the multi-faceted juvenile detention facility where I worked up until the end of July 2010.
Now I must state that the facility where I worked was very progressive and not nearly as punitive as most detention facilities. That said it was still detention, a locked facility staffed ‘round the clock. Juveniles wore detention scrubs and were transported in shackles and handcuffs (do not be shocked, when you are arrested you are put in handcuffs).
Now I am entering into a very therapeutic atmosphere. Social work school talks a lot about collaboration, self-awareness, and openness. All of this is very important however I have not seen a lot of discussion regarding assertiveness yet. It has been all of three weeks so who am I to complain. I have heard mention about difficult field placements toughening a student and growing a thicker skin but it tends to be discussed as more of a negative; a “this is what has to happen” sort of dynamic rather than elaborating on the benefit that can be gained by ensuring you maintain a balance between being smooth and being firm. I am a very strong believer and supporter of the search for balance.
We are taught about boundaries though the topic usually comes up when prompted by nervous questions regarding how much personal information a social worker should reveal to a client or whether it is okay to hug a student and similar queries.
I think one reason that I have begun to contemplate this is because I am noticing the influence of my detention work. While I have and continue to view myself as a non-confrontational individual who leans toward collaboration rather than authoritarian methods I do believe the latter has its place.
My first year field placement is at a middle school in the south Bronx. I believe it is safe to say that the majority of schools in New York City retain a harsher atmosphere than Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach, FL. I was ready to be shocked and taken aback and wildly nervous. I believe I am all of those things but not nearly to the level that I thought. I have been in the field all of two days so my views and understandings could and will change.
I do however notice that I do not gravitate toward the softer attitude or approach in the school. When discussing what to do with a student who is disruptive during a group session my first thought is of the various consequences: send back to class, send to dean, inform parent, and deprive of certain privileges. My supervisor’s response was to simply send them back to class and inform her if it continues and we would take it from there. My fellow interns, the different past experiences of whom I greatly admire, seemed unsure of a course of action though this could have just been my perception.
When a student came to the office and sat down with no explanation I remembered our supervisor telling us that students could not just spend time in the office as a way of avoiding something else. They needed an appointment, to be scheduled in a group or have a pass to set up an appointment. I engaged the girl, asked what class she had, what she needed and why she was not on her way to class. After her various vague answers I politely yet firmly told her she needed to go to class, that she could not hang out but to return if she needed to when she was not in class. This impressed a fellow intern yet seemed simply appropriate to me.
There were numerous other smaller examples (supporting a dean for having a student leave the assembly for speaking after being warned that if he spoke he would have to leave). I believe, especially with adolescents, that being open and available is just as important as being firm and steadfast. Follow through is very important and if a consequence is associated with a particular behavior not applying that consequence sends the wrong message.
I do not believe that “punitive” is the way to go. I believe in collaboration especially the collaboration between being firm and being open, between being conservative and liberal if you will allow me to make such a comparison. If I am willing to follow through on a reward I better be willing to follow through on a consequence and the other way around.
P.S. I must also note for my former co-workers that for someone who does not like and seeks to avoid confrontation I had to hold myself back from stepping in when students were being rowdy, this is no longer a part of my job…unless their rowdiness happens during something I am running. I also picked up a bent paperclip and threw it out…I cannot let contraband sit…even if I am in a place where it is not contraband.