Social Work Students Embark on Second ‘Ghana Summer’

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 11, 2012) — While many students are enjoying a relaxing summer vacation, a group of undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Kentucky College of Social Work have decided to forgo the road trip or the beach chair and travel to the sun-baked West African nation of Ghana. There they will spend six weeks, from June 17 to July 27, in and around the capital city of Accra, working with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to provide much-needed services for and on behalf of children who have been removed from abusive or neglectful home situations. In exchange for their service, the students will earn practicum credits required for graduation. During their time in Ghana, the UK students will stay in shared-housing dormitories with other students from Ghana and other African nations. “It is a tremendous experience for our students,” says Marie-Antoinette Sossou, the professor of social work who is accompanying the students on their journey. “They learn so much more in six weeks of field work than they could ever learn in the classroom alone. In Ghana they will get to practice their skills as social workers while helping to improve the lives of children who have very few resources.” In the past two decades, Ghana has emerged from being one of the world’s poorest nations to a beacon of hope and a model for sub-Saharan Africa. A growing economy and thriving democracy have fostered rapid development and modernization there. This transformation has not been accomplished without significant growing pains, however, and Ghana’s struggles are far from over. Compared to developed Western nations, Ghana is still economically very poor. The average worker’s salary is around $600 per year. “All students can benefit from traveling to another country and interacting with people from a different culture, who may not have had the same advantages as they did in their home countries,” Sossou said. “For social work students, this experience will demonstrate to them the truly global, international importance of social work as a profession. This trip can help students to overcome preconceived notions and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of a worldwide community.” This summer will mark the second time that Sossou has made the trip to Ghana with UK students. Social work student Corey Kirby, who went to Ghana last summer, says she was motivated by an interest in international social work and a desire to one day work full time to bring sustainable housing and adequate resources to hard-to-reach areas of developing nations. “I am always working to further my knowledge of other countries and their cultures in order to grow myself and learn about my own morals and beliefs,” Kirby said. “It is my opinion that one cannot expect to change the world without first changing themselves.” Fellow student Chris Catron, who was also part of last summer’s trip, says she was just looking for an opportunity to travel and to serve. “The College of Social Work had this trip set up as an opportunity to both study abroad and earn practicum credit,” Catron said. “I had never been anywhere outside the United States before, and Ghana seemed to have an especially rich and interesting culture, so I signed up a bit spontaneously.” Both Kirby and Catron said they encountered a few surprises along the way. Kirby says what surprised her most was the relative unavailability of social services in Ghana, in spite of other recent advances in the country. “While the laws and public policies have been signed and instated, many of these policies are not followed,” Kirby said. “Some of this is due to the lack of resources but much is due to the lack of supervision. Professional social workers in Ghana are few and far between.” Catron says she was taken back by the optimism and gratitude of the people there, despite the fact that many of them live in poverty. “Most the children I met took every opportunity to laugh, to dance, to sing,” Catron said. “It speaks to the strength of the human spirit that in the face of adversity, many people chose to celebrate life and practice gratitude.” Kirby said the experience is one that she will take with her and build upon throughout her educational and professional career. “I learned more just by making friends and speaking to Ghanaians than I ever could have in a class about needs of developing nations,” Kirby said. “I learned that needs of struggling nations are highly individualized and cannot be classified as ‘needs of all developing nations.’ While in Ghana, for example, I listened to Ghanaian music, dressed in Ghanaian clothes, ate the food they ate, tried to learn the language, and even did a little traditional dancing. Total immersion into a culture is the greatest learning experience one could ever have.” Catron wrote extensively about her experiences on her personal blog, “My Summer in Ghana,” which can be found at   MEDIA CONTACT: Keith Hautala, (859) 323-2396;

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