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UB team works with Indian social workers to advance children's rights

Members of the UB Social Work team, from left, Filomena Critelli, Shraddha Prabhu and Laura Lewis.

By RACHEL RAIMONDI

Published November 14, 2013

In the early morning, Laura Lewis and her colleagues from the UB School of Social Work traveled to and from a research site in Mumbai by rickshaw.

On other days, the long commute by air or taxi would lead them to Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Indian states where children’s shelters and schools are in development.

“In India, high numbers of children perish before their first birthday, and at least 40 million children work as child laborers without access to schooling,” says Lewis, director of field education and co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Global Engagement. “Thousands of children are bought, kidnapped or trafficked, and face exploitation in many other ways.”

For 10 days in late September, the group — which included Filomena Critelli, associate professor and co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Global Engagement, and Shraddha Prabhu, a doctoral candidate at the School of Social Work — worked with local Indian organizations that are advancing child rights through innovative programs and legal activism.

Group members told the story of their work in India this week as part of a UB’s International Education Week presentation, “Children’s Rights in India: A View from the Field.”

Social workers in India

Members of the UB team, left, relax with some of their Indian counterparts.

The group’s focus was on analyzing and discussing the range of diversity in India and the United States, as well as inequalities based on race, ethnicity, class, caste, religion, gender, sexual orientation and physical challenges. Additionally, they looked at the practices of social work and their effectiveness.

Social work organizations in India use a “rights-based approach” around child protection and child welfare, focusing on “the dignity of the individual, their right to have basic needs met,” says Lewis. She believes the ideological shift from the U.S. “service” or “charity” focus fits well with the trauma-informed human rights curriculum of the UB School of Social Work.

Lewis and her colleagues partnered with Prerana, an anti-trafficking organization that works directly in six villages in South Delhi. The focus of the partnership was to explore the possibility of facilitating an exchange of skills, knowledge and resources to benefit students and educators.

At Prerana’s Naunihal Children’s Home for Girls at Kharghar and at the Falkland Road Night Care Centre, the collaborators took advice from older beneficiaries and discussed techniques social workers should use in combatting issues young women face in India.

Specifically, the researchers discussed how to guide children through school enrollment and choosing a career path by acting as a parent, as well as a friend, and by ensuring a healthy, constructive, nonjudgmental communication pattern.

Additionally, the group worked with Amrita University, which has collaborated with UB in similar efforts since 2009.

Lewis believes the trips in the field lead to global cooperation as social workers instantly connect through a passion for combatting social injustice and human rights violations. Within minutes, acquaintances can begin rich discussions of the issues, she says.

UB and Amrita University are working on a joint grant proposal to the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, a program that aims to further cooperation between American and Indian institutions of higher education through faculty exchanges in fields like food security, climate change, sustainable energy and public health.

This is the fourth time Lewis and her colleagues have traveled to India to work with counterparts in the country. Lewis believes exchanges like this could lead to field placements for her graduate students, in addition to increasing research collaborations and the exchange of curriculum materials.

In addition to India, the School of Social Work has collaborations with social work programs in Thailand, Tanzania, Macedonia and South Korea. For more information, visit the School of Social Work website.