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13 March 2019
Social Work 10 year collaboration anniversary highlights pivotal research guidance on current social ills

#iamuwc60 #internationalisation

(Published - 13 March 2019)

Each year, in March, the collaboration is celebrated with an event which involves various non-governmental organisations to discuss a variety of social challenges and solutions to these issues.

Research by UWC PhD student, Amanda Ismail, elicited widespread discussion at the seminar.

Her topic - Lived Experiences of Survivors of Trauma, Torture and Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - provides guidelines for social work intervention in South Africa for refugees and asylum seekers.

South Africa is obligated, by international and domestic law, to help people seeking refuge within its borders. The Refugees Act (1998) guarantees them access to basic social services, education and healthcare, freedom of movement and the right to work and study.

Ismail found, however, that prejudice and discrimination towards refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa frequently results in difficulty accessing essential services such as housing and job markets, and refugees and asylum seekers regularly experience abuse from various service providers. This is largely due to xenophobia, hostility and ignorance - which increases the vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers.

She urged fellow social workers to develop a greater understanding of where refugees and asylum seekers come from, to show respect and empathy at all times, and to be sensitive to the holistic needs, culture and customs of Refugees and Asylum seekers. (A complete Powerpoint presentation is available upon request)

Another item featured on the agenda is research on the social dynamics of waste pickers by Professor Catherina Schenck, a seasoned academic in social work, conducting research in waste and society.

“People look at waste pickers as if they’re trash, but they add value to society. They are responsible for collecting 90% of the shockingly low 10% of recycled materials which actually reach our landfill sites. Eventually the recycled materials are converted into usable materials which is likely to be resold.”

“This type of research on waste pickers is a classic example of  the shape social work can take in the near future: highlighting the value of the marginalised while unlocking new job opportunities for the vulnerable in society,” said Schenck.  (A complete Powerpoint presentation is available upon request)

She added, “In an ideal world municipalities in South Africa should in fact compensate waste pickers for collecting recyclable material on their behalf.”

Marcel Londt, Head of Social Work at UWC, explained that the collaboration started in 2009 when Howard University called for an exchange programme with the Social Work Department.

“It became a regular shared space for talk and knowledge-sharing that encourages new research topics,” said Londt.

Guest speaker and representative of Howard University in the USA Professor Cudore Snell, who is also a proud alumna of UWC, said the collaboration formed a strong bond between the two institutions and it has produced several exchange students and scholarships over the past decade. He expressed his hope that the collaboration would continue well into the future.

Picture caption: The social work departments of SA’s University of the Western Cape (UWC)  and the USA’s Howard University celebrated 10 years of productive collaboration. It all started  in 2009 with a request from Howard for an exchange programme with the Social Work Department. Pictured from left are Profs Sandra Crewe and Cudore Snell from Howard University and Dr Marcel Londt from UWC. Photos: Harriet Box

Video Links:


Prof Catherina Schenck, SARChI Chair in Waste and Society and former Head of Department of Social Work at UWC, speaks about her research on waste pickers within society.


Dr Marcel Londt, Head of Department of Social Work at UWC, speaks about the background to the 10-year anniversary of the UWC / Howard University, US collaboration.