School of Social Work Hosts Three Displaced Scholars
Scholarship recipients will use their social work training to improve mental health or social and political conditions in their home countries.
Content warning: This article contains references to violent events that may be upsetting or triggering.
This academic year, the School of Social Work welcomed three MSW candidates supported by the Columbia University Scholarship for Displaced Students. They are among the 15 students in the second cohort of this program, which offers full scholarships to displaced students from anywhere in the world. Here, the scholars tell us more about their home countries, their career goals, and why they chose to pursue a degree in social work. (Comments are edited and condensed.)
LAVENES (LAST NAME WITHHELD), LIBERIA
Bachelor’s in Biology from the T.J.R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology, University of Liberia
Liberia, a small country situated on the west coast of Africa, was founded by formerly enslaved people from the United States of America, and its capital, Monrovia, was named in honor of James Monroe, America’s fifth president. My country is the oldest on the continent of Africa and provided sanctuary to many African revolutionaries as they engaged in the struggle to liberate their people from colonialism and apartheid. It is now home to a little over 4.8 million people and fifteen different ethnic groups.
I want to identify sustainable ways to support individuals who have been stigmatized and marginalized for their struggles with substance use disorders and mental health. I also have an innate desire to see others succeed in fulfilling their potential. This drives my unrelenting quest for equity in resource allocation to every spectrum of society, irrespective of social status.
In the short term, I intend to gain understanding of how the private and public sectors deal with the complexities of social work issues and to secure employment with the WHO or UN as a research fellow focusing on mental health and substance use in West Africa. My long-term goal is to establish and manage a rehabilitation center in my home country for individuals struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. This may seem herculean, but it will be a fulfilling way of giving back to the society I cherish.
BWEMA BIENFAIT MATATA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Bachelor’s in Social Work and Social Administration, Bugema University, Uganda
I chose social work because it is in my blood. My father was always teaching us how to give to people in need. When I was 10, he donated our garden to Rwandan refugees who fled because of the 1994 genocide. In 2012, rebels attacked our village. They murdered my father and two of my younger brothers and forced the survivors to run. I lost the love of both parents that any other youth has. I became a separated child, living with different people of a different background.
Today, the security situation in eastern DRC remains unstable. Intercommunal violence affects the political, security, and humanitarian situation. There are continued reports of several towns in eastern DRC being attacked by or falling under the temporary control of armed groups. That is why it’s hard as a displaced person to go back now. But I believe that displaced people have the potential to act as agents of change. They contribute significantly to sustainable development globally, and in Africa.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo they need a leader who is a social worker, who knows what Congolese need and why they are displaced worldwide. That’s why I’m here. After my masters I will do a PhD in social work, and I will be able to return, run in the presidential election of 2034, and save our country by solving the intercommunal problem and bringing people together. That is my role and my responsibility.
ZAKAYO KENEDY MESHACK, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Bachelor’s in Social Protection, Institute of Finance Management, Tanzania
Although the Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in natural resources, its population is still living in poverty. However, it is encouraging that Congolese youths are eager to change the situation and start rebuilding the country through justice, peace, and hard work. Youths are the future of a nation, and, if youths are positive, the future of a nation is bright.
Mental health is also core to building a healthy nation. I decided to attain a career as a social worker to help curb the currently rising problem of mental health. Refugees in developing countries and around the world face enormous stressful events. Unfortunately, their access to services is not easy due to the lack of mental health professionals, especially in developing countries, and professionals’ lack of background working with refugees, which often results in poor quality of services.
I want people to feel safe, including those diagnosed with mental illnesses, who are being stigmatized in some societies. By becoming a professional mental health expert, I will be able to treat and advocate for them.