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Social Work Sojourn to Vancouver, British Columbia

January 30, 2009

Students in SOC WF 312/405 spent a day in Vancouver
Students in SOC WF 312/405 spent a day in Vancouver visiting social service agencies and gaining a greater understanding of Canada-US differences in social welfare policy. At the end of the day the students relaxed at the Katmandu Café in Vancouver’s East Side where the owner introduced them to how food is a key component of social activism.

by Stan de Mello, Professor and Morna McEarchern

Stan de Mello has been offering an annual student study-in-Canada opportunity to undergraduates in the School of Social Work since 2005. This year 27 students in SOC WF 312/405 Social Work Policy Practice/Fieldwork Seminar, travelled to Vancouver on 19 February 2009 where they visited numerous social service agencies. This year the courses were co-taught with Blake Kaiser, School of Social Work and Morna McEachern, doctoral candidate, School of Social Work. Morna is also serving as this year’s chair for the annual Canadian Studies Graduate Student Symposium.

Last month seniors from the School of Social Work headed to Vancouver to explore the differences between US and Canadian social services. The two of us, and Blake Kaiser, also with Social Work, accompanied the students.

We were met in Chinatown by Hayne Wai, a University of British Columbia instructor and President of the Chinese Historical Society. He gave us a walking tour of historic Chinatown while sharing his personal history with the students. Hayne introduced us to Alex Liu, executive director of Strathcona Employment Assistance Services, an agency that serves immigrant and refugee population immigrants in the Greater Vancouver. Alex, who is legally blind, described the complexity of being a immigrant with a disability in a leadership role in the Chinese community. We lunched in Chinatown at a vintage Vancouver Chinese village-style restaurant. During lunch Patsy George, CM, OBC, MSW, an inspirational social worker and community activist, spoke to the group. She encouraged the students to frame their daily social work practice within a larger global context.

Next we drove to the Native Education Center. We were welcomed with traditional First Nation singing. Our group was treated to bannock and tea and a tour providing the history of the school. The students exchanged ideas and gifts. The warm welcome, music, art, and architecture (the school is modeled on the traditional long house), were enhanced with moving personal stories. Kathleen MacKay, a social worker who leads a domestic violence prevention at Vancouver Hospital, also spoke to the group.

Finally, we had dinner at the Katmandu Café, on Commercial Drive. Owner Abi Sharma prepared a Nepali feast and described how his café serves as a community action center. An inspiring speech over dinner by David Cadman, Vancouver City Councillor, enlightened the group on issues of social and environmental sustainability and of community organizing and activism on a city-to-city level worldwide.

The students have been creating photo voice essays about the field trip describing how social services are organized and delivered quite differently in Canada. This trip provided a great opportunity to witness a direct international comparison.

This project was supported, in part, by funding from a Canadian Studies Center Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

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