Dr. Jones talks with Dr. Martin Tracy about his career in international social work and the importance of rooting social work practice in community building.
Dr. Martin B.Tracy served in the US Army during the Vietnam war from 1958-1961. He volunteered in the Peace Corps from 1965-67 which started his path to Social Work. Dr. Tracy received his Ph.D. (Social Work) from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, Illinois in 1982. Since then he was a professor at the University of Iowa and the University of Southern Illinois. His research and consulting has taken him all over the world, particularly in eastern Europe. He has authored many publications related to this field. Dr. Tracy was most recently Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Social Work, University of Kentucky until 2004. Post-retirement, he and his wife Patsy (also a social worker) live in western Kentucky and continue to be actively involved in Social Work worldwide.
Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the social work Conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:28] I’m joined today by Dr. Martin Tracy all the way from Western Kentucky in Murray Kentucky. Martin is joining us via zoom in. Martin thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Tracy: [00:00:40] It’s my privilege and honor to be with you. Thanks so much for inviting me.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:44] Yeah it’s been a few years since you and I have seen each other but we keep up on Facebook and it’s great to see your travels. And you know you a few years back you read my dissertation when it was probably not in great shape and gave me some some really good feedback about that. And I just I just want to thank you for your influence in my life and in my career I appreciate that.
Dr. Tracy: [00:01:13] Blake, you were an exemplary student and you’ve done great since graduating and I’m very proud to have known you a little better than you were developing and to have watched you develop – it’s been a real pleasure.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:29] Thanks. Well I know you know today’s podcast is really focused on your work in international social work and you have traveled literally all around the world. I don’t know how many frequent flier miles you’ve racked up in your day but I’m sure many. But I wonder if we could start out talking about just some unusual or interesting travel story that you have from your time out on the road.
Dr. Tracy: [00:01:59] One of the most interesting trips I took as a professional is when I was a consultant on the International Labor Organization and was asked a training project for the organization in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. And the training was on developing social service programs for the elderly. I had never been to Turkmenistan before and knew very little about it. So when I arrived it was actually part of a U.N. organization. So they picked me up to the airport and it was late at night and we drove into the city and it is just like driving onto a movie set. All of the buildings were marble absolutely beautiful. Modern technology that modern buildings had been earthquake there are a number of years before and they had revolted the dictator at the time reading noted that it is just that there was no traffic. It wasn’t a single car. These four lane roads with beautiful dividers with gorgeous trees and water fountains. Again just like a TV set something that was set on a planet in the future. So we drove through there and then they took me to the hotel and the next morning I went to where we were having our meeting had people from all over Turkmenistan to participate in the training. And that was then that was when I walked into the government building there was this beautiful marble facade. And you go inside and yes it’s like walking into the third world. It was it was all a facade. It was just outside of the buildings. Now they do have some buildings that are really spectacular all the way through but many of them just on the outside with some most of this marble front – a prop – more or less so that there is were police men on every corner. People got to go to and from work by hailing down anybody who was driving a car. Then there were no taxis. I didn’t have to worry about that because I had transportation about me in the conference and held meetings that went on for over a week. One of the people came and animated dress which was beautiful. They were the women that participated on these gorgeous, diverse outfits from from the villages where they lived – and it was just just a fascinating sort of magical and unreal place to be. And when that was when I was coming out I’m just leaving. There was some man American behind me. We were standing in line getting ready to board our flight. And that’s a long flight you have to go to Turkey and connections in Europe, and back to the U.S. And he has been there as a musician you would appreciate that folk musician from Maine have been going there for years. So as we got started to board and when we went to Turkey to get off the plane we were the only two that were called out of the line by immigration officers. I guess because they wanted to know: What have you been doing in Turkmenistan. Just wondered and looked at my passport which has Moldova Romania and Bulgaria and all manner of Russia all manner of south eastern European countries. So I get pulled out routinely. But after Turkmenistan. I got pulled out every time and didn’t know what I was doing there. So I had to explain. Yeah but they always let me go.
Dr. Jones: [00:06:35] Good good. That’s the important part. Let’s let you come back. Well you’ve really spent much of your career doing international social work. I was looking over your vita and just the things that you’ve been able to do as a as a social work professional internationally are quite amazing and I guess I’m wondering what sparked this interest in international social work in you?
Dr. Tracy: [00:07:07] That’s an easy one. The Peace Corps. My wife and I joined the Peace Corps right after we graduated from college and spent two years in simple Turkey two different villages where we taught English as a Second Language from he also worked in tourism development. My favorite story from our experience in Turkey really led me into social work and then community development was we had an adult student of ours who are learning English and his name was “Gunaydin Gunaydin” which means “Good morning. Good morning” And Gunaydin became good friend of ours and he works for the State Government. He was a water controller and inspector. So he told us one and said I’d like to take you down on a picnic and I can take you out to a village I’m working in. So we went out I had a nice Jeep and went to this village which is very remote and had been there for who knows how long, 2 to 3000 years. It’s had been there a long time and the government in its infinate wisdom wanting to help this community had come into it and told them we want to improve your supply of water and there are a stream now two miles away from the village on the half and we want to put in a pipe so you can pipe the water direct from the stream to the village and the villages says that’s just not gonna happen. If Allah had wanted us to have water in the village, we would have had water in the village. So we’re perfectly content letting our womenfolk and children go and get the water and bring a back like we’ve been doing for millennia. So our friend told us the government wasn’t satisfied with that answer and they said no we’re going to build it. Not only are we going to build it but you’re going to build it and you’re going to do it if you don’t do voluntarily with them we’ll bring our military down and we’ll force you to do that at gunpoint. And they did that. So they built it. And then of course the military left and the tore it down. So again Gunaydin’s message to us was the thing that he had learned that we kept in the back of our minds for the rest of our careers is: You can’t achieve progress and development in a community if don’t engage – if they don’t assume responsibility. They are part of the decision making process meaning if they don’t take ownership of it and want to do it, it is not going to happen.
Dr. Jones: [00:10:10] Yeah that seems true in any setting. Right. There’s been so many examples of people coming into communities in the U.S. and throughout the world. And we we kind of “know what’s best.” We we you know we do research on people and then we leave the we leave the community and we leave the people in the same condition that we found them in.
Dr. Tracy: [00:10:36] Right. Yes. And that’s that’s not good. Not what you want – you want to develop something that’s going to be sustainable. That will continue as long after you are gone – teaching how to fish. But they have to want to do it. And so there has to be a long process of helping them to get to that point where they recognize that there is a need to recognize that there is a need to do something about it but they need the tools or they need to understand how they bring not just the major stakeholders but really community and the assumption of responsibility and owenership
Dr. Jones: [00:11:30] Right. Your your interest in this area you said was sparked by the Peace Corps and kind of that experience that you had. I wonder if you could think about today and what is it how how can we draw students into thinking about social work in an international way. I mean I know a lot of the students that I work with are very focused on the community that they live in and which is fine but we you know really want to help them understand that we truly are living in a global society and what happens in our community impacts people all over the world and vice versa. And I I guess I wonder for you how do we get students interested in this global perspective of social work.
Dr. Tracy: [00:12:27] Well it would help if we had this as part of our curriculum in Social Work Education – giving students examples of social work especially community development I think abroad, especially in developing countries. There’s a tremendous need for that. And there are so many opportunities now for social work students working through nongovernment organizations based as well as secular nonprofits nongovernment organizations that work abroad that they love to hire social workers especially social workers who would have had some experience already in community development and encouraging students to think about the AmeriCorps which can then also think about the Peace Crop itself – saw a number of social work students go into the Peace Corps and that of course that experience changes their lives and then when they come back to the states and they can I can apply it locally or think about working in a international environment.
Dr. Jones: [00:13:53] What is the biggest social work skill that you used in in your career? What what did you learn or what did you develop that you kept coming back to as you did this work?
Dr. Tracy: [00:14:09] Well I had the advantage of having been married to a “real” social worker.
Dr. Jones: [00:14:15] Ha ha…
Dr. Jones: [00:14:16] Someone who who had actually more practice than I did – I came into it primarily from the policy side because that was my interest. And that’s when I did my research on comparative examination of social service programs which included social work. So I’ve always come back. I think about all of that let me put it let me put this way: Both my wife and I are very strong admirers of John Dewey and Jane Adams. And they’re the ones who have really set our theoretical and practice framework. So building on Dewey and Adams, Both of us are pragmatists and progressives. I think we can still use that word: progressives in the sense that you look at programs from a very optimistic perspective a “can do” perspective. And that has really shaped the way in which both of us did our international work – she participated, was a partner, in both projects we did in Russian projects and in southeastern Europe. So that’s that’s our theoretical framework.
Dr. Jones: [00:16:01] Yeah we should mention your wife Patsy you’ve mentioned her several times but how long have you been married to Patsy?
Dr. Tracy: [00:16:10] We married in 1963 so if my math still works. It will be 55 years in September.
Dr. Jones: [00:16:19] Well congratulations and you know I think it’s somewhat unusual to see a marriage where people work together you know professionally and to change their part of the world. And I’m I’m just always respected and admired that about you and her.
Dr. Tracy: [00:16:42] Yeah, it’s been a real bonus.
Dr. Jones: [00:16:44] As you reflect back on your career in social work and as a social worker educator what do you think is the most pressing need for us as social work educators today?
Dr. Tracy: [00:16:57] Well from my own my perspective as mine I would like to see Social Work Education revisit and strengthen its focus on community. I know how important that mental health is other current aspects of social work. It seems to me that at the base of all this the social work education should not forget its roots. Again as I mentioned before the roots to me are Jane Adams and John Dewey. I’d like to see us refocus on that in our social education and then of course and then my personal interest is like for social education to be global in context. Despite current political perspectives: Global and we are global society and we’re going to become more and more so as time goes by and social work needs to be kept abreast of social work programs abroad on to be able to share what our students in the United States have learned recognizing of course that the best thing we can do is is all that has to go on the countrys and offer what we can but how we can help. No we’re not able to impose an American model. We have to work with local models just as we do in the United States. We we want to grow our communities. So I think I think that I’d like to see us make sure that we maintain roots of early social work as prominent part of social work education.
Dr. Jones: [00:19:08] So Martin we have students some who are interested in international social work and I would like for you to talk about talk to those students and and talk to us about when they are going into this type of work. What is the most impactful thing that they can do? I would imagine that international social work seems kind of overwhelming to people and to students. But when you reflect on your career what is the most impactful thing that a social worker can do going into a foreign country?
Dr. Tracy: [00:19:49] I think students or any worker has to start where the client is – if you’re working in a developing country. You’re working in a country that has very few resources and their needs are very basic. So you have to recognize that you’re not going to be able to come down the state of the art social work mental health for example. You have to start clients out of sufficient food, shelter, water. And you have to also have to start with what is the attitude of the community in which you’re working. Most development work revolves around building community capacity. So you you know into these communities the idea of the very long, slow, painful, months. Step forward two steps backwards two step forward one step backward. Nothing’s going to be done in a hurry. You have to convince or work with community leaders and community stakeholders. From diverse backgrounds to and within their cultural contacts because that might be quite different from what you’re used to living in – religion, for example. So that’s where you have to start. And you have to recognize that much as Patsy and I did in the Peace Corps is that you’re going to learn as much or more than what you’re going to be able to teach. And the idea that you’re going to have the best practice model but you’re going to go in with a good practice model. That’s why it’s good it’s going for students to get experience working with nonprofit organizations as as internships or practicums that really helps them do to get a feel of what it takes to be successful in the community because nonprofits have to do that and they do that and they do it very well.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:32] Martin, one of the things that we asked our guests on this podcast often is how they take care of themselves what they do for self care. You have had a long career you’re still very active. And I wonder what you what you’ve done to take care of yourself what you and Patsy have done and what do you do now to take care of yourself.
Dr. Tracy: [00:23:00] Exercise. Throughout my career. I’ve always exercised – always participated in going to the gym no matter where I was. When I was younger I did a lot of hiking but I don’t do that nearly as much as I did. So I’m confined more to the gym. I played tennis for up unitl my early 70s which was great both physically and mentally. It’s just great to get out into a court and play with friends. So, semi-competatively and hiking, as I said, was always a pleasure of mine and I’ve had the opportunity of doing that around the world and much of it with my family especially my son. Go on hiking trips places – so exercising or eating not always as well as I should. But I try and try to watch what I eat.
Dr. Jones: [00:24:17] YHa ha…yeah.
Dr. Tracy: [00:24:19] But primarily it’s been exercise.
Dr. Jones: [00:24:22] You’re in western Kentucky now and I know that one thing Western Kentucky is famous for is barbecue, right?
Dr. Tracy: [00:24:30] We have BBQ that’s excellent and tempting too (ha ha) – but we also have here the “land between the lakes.” Which is – my wife and I go out there as often as we can. So if we do go out and have barbecue there, we’ll try and walk it off on one of the beautiful trails we have.
Dr. Jones: [00:24:48] Ha ha…That’s a good plan. Well, Martin, I want to thank you for taking your time today. I know as I mentioned before even in your retirement you are a super active guy and I appreciate that about you and just thank you for spending your life in service to the world. I mean literally the things that you’ve accomplished and done in your in your life in the way you’ve used your life is just a real inspiration to me and I really appreciate you and thanks for taking some time to talk to me today.
Dr. Tracy: [00:25:22] Oh thank you Blake. It’s been a real privilege and I appreciate it very much.
Dr. Jones: [00:25:27] Thanks.
Dr. Jones: [00:25:30] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.
Announcer: [00:25:40] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. Interim Dean Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr Blake Jones, produced by Jason Johnston with thanks to our Webmaster Jonathan Hagee. Music by Billy McLaughlin. To find out more about the UK college social work and this podcast visit https://socialwork.uky.edu/podcast