Honoring South African Youth Month through Social Work and Entrepreneurship


June is a special month to salute civil and human liberties — from Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States, to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riot in Manhattan, a tipping point to the Gay Liberation in the United States. However, June 16, 1976, also commemorates the youth uprising which led to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

To Americans, commemorations can honor bravery and self-sacrifice, or they can remember those who have fallen victim to an unfortunate event or a series of heinous acts. But nevertheless, here in America — where Liberty stands clothed in democracy with one hand clenching independence and the other raising the importance of universal knowledge that brings light to all — tragedy no longer unites this deeply divided nation.

Of course, America is far from alone in its attempt to push a more unified front in the midst of tragedy, whether one we commemorate often or one we mourn just yesterday. South Africa — still a chronically racially divided nation — is a country where America’s struggles to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s helped inspire its anti-apartheid movement in the mid-1960s.

Much like the origin of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the joint forces between students and youth in South Africa echoed the same courage and extreme tenacity of African American students protesting their unequal status in the state’s segregated educational system. Unlike the strides South Africa has made to celebrate student advocacy and its contribution to the larger society, America has not yet begun to observe, or even embrace, the strength of young people in the 1960s who sought to return the power back to ordinary citizens. As a result, this may be one of our nation’s biggest oversight: the lack of history we share about social movements inspired and led by our youth.

Today, in South Africa, millions honor the memory of a national tragedy — the tragedy that began with thousands gathering at a peaceful student protest against the education system of South Africa during Apartheid rule but ended with hundreds of young people killed by the ruling government. This historic event, also known as the June 16th, 1976 Uprising, continues to pave the way for the youth of South Africa to carry on the spirit and legacy of those who withstood the painful and unjust political force of the Apartheid State and demanded more for themselves and their community. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the uprising.

Millennials and Entrepreneurship in South Africa

After many decades of struggles, the South African government ended apartheid, but today’s Millennials still face many socio-economic challenges in modern times that are often overlooked. In this now diverse nation, largely made up of young people who constitute 66% of the total population, many are unemployed despite being qualified.

As of March 2016, the unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 26.7 percent in the three months from 24.5 percent in the previous quarter.  Of those unemployed, youth unemployment is at its highest.  Of those unemployed, youth unemployment is at its highest. In response to these staggering statistics, South African’s National Youth Policy is geared toward addressing the needs of young people from 15-34 years of age with respect to “education, health and well-being, and economic participation and social cohesion” (United Nations Population Fund, 2013).

However, too many South Africans, the reality of owning a business as an alternative solution to unemployment is far too unlikely. According to the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa Report (2014),  South Africa’s rate of entrepreneurial activity is undoubtedly low for a developing country. Less than 7.0 percent of the adult population in South Africa is engaged in some form of entrepreneurial activities, while less than 3 percent already own or manage an established business. This report also reveals that for every 10 adult males engaged in entrepreneurship there are eight females. However, the number of women in entrepreneurship has increased over the years primarily due to government support, but also because of the growing perception of opportunities to start a business.

The report also suggests that South Africa needs more Millennials – male and female alike – to consider starting businesses. But yet, there are very few governmental initiatives that are contributing towards entrepreneurial activities by its citizens. Historically, the most effective ones are supported by private companies or grassroots organizations that inspire to make a difference and increase the entrepreneurial propensity among all of South Africa, especially among their peers.

For example, Ndosi Strategies, an NYC-based consulting firm providing affordable development services, international platform, and economic investment for primarily African-led businesses, seeks to:

“Support Africa’s optimistic job creator towards success with the same passion and deliberation that propelled them into the arena of commerce, social enterprise, and industry – through providing accessible business in research, marketing and assisting in fostering their next U.S. or South African/African based partnership or collaboration”.

In fact, Ndosi Strategies in partnership with Brand South Africa will launch the first annual conference in NYC, on June 25th. South African youth entrepreneurs, both U.S. and S.A based, will come together and discuss their business ventures, the youth’s role in South Africa’s development, and the entrepreneurial movement as a vehicle for economic development and stability. The keynote speaker will include international branding & business expert, Mr. Thebe Ikalafeng, Founder of award-winning African brand and reputation advisory firm, Brand Leadership Group. Moderating the discussion will be Yolanda Sangweni, Deputy Editor of ESSENCE.com, and Founder of AFRIPOP.

Call to Action

Young people have always been viewed as the heart of socio-political change in South Africa. However, what is not well-documented is the contributions social workers made to help usher such change in South Africa through entrepreneurship, policy-making, practice, and community service. In events scheduled for later this month, we will be further exploring how social work and entrepreneurship can work collaboratively to improve outcomes for youth.

As a result, today I challenge my fellow budding social workers from all walks of life to learn more about Soweto, to uplift high school students or mentees in your local community by sharing this story with others, and to consider participating in one of two Twitter chat discussions focused the state of youth in South Africa and the role social workers play in developing the next generation in youth in South Africa as global change agents and social innovators.

Together let’s re-ignite the fire of Liberty here in the United States, but also in South Africa, so younger generations won’t forget those who pushed justice, freedom, and democracy forward.

Community Workers Adopt Mobile Technology to Improve Maternal-Child Health


As world leaders get ready to meet in New York in September to set a new development agenda for the next 15 years, their discussions will likely focus on maternal and child health. A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) last May 13, in fact, highlights that progress has been insufficient to improve mothers’ health and reduce child mortality.

800 women still die every day in the world from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, while less than one third of all countries have achieved or will meet the target of reducing child-death rate by two-thirds.

Although the Millennium Development Goals have helped address many important public health challenges, there is still the need to ensure the “world’s most vulnerable people have access to health services,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, in a statement presenting the report.

Local solutions to a global problem

South Africa is a good illustration of these public health emergencies – and of possible solutions. In a country where 30 percent of pregnant women do not access prenatal care, more than 12 percent of the population live with HIV and around 40% of maternal deaths are HIV/AIDS-related, a number of initiatives show encouraging results.

A study published last October by the Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Trust together with the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stellenbosch University in South Africa found that repeated home visits by trained community health workers to neighborhood mothers led to significant health improvements both for mothers and children, including in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Trained and recruited by the Philani, these health workers – known as mentor mothers – provide a lifeline for families otherwise excluded from the reach of many public health services. In the past 7 years, they have brought healthcare interventions into the homes of tens of thousands of pregnant women and new mothers. They taught them how to rehabilitate underweight children and improve their chances of giving birth to healthy babies, helped obtain state welfare allowances, and assisted in the prevention of preventable illnesses.

Tablets for health workers

Mentor mothers’ work has now caught the attention of some professors at Stanford University (California) who have started a project in February to support them with sturdy tablets pre-loaded with education videos. These videos explain basic health and nutrition facts in a simple and intuitive way, with the aim of helping mentor mothers in their work of expanding access to health knowledge and improving health conditions.

Nomfusi Nquru, one of the twelve mentor mothers testing the project, cannot conceal her excitement about using these tablets. “It is something new and a chance to use technology that I do not get to use,” she said in an interview. “Mothers react excitedly to the videos and seem to pay careful attention to what is being said. Hearing lessons in a different way is something that catches the mothers’ attention and afterwards they ask questions on how to feed their children well and look after themselves in their pregnancies.”

The tablet project is the brainchild of Dr. Maya Adam, a lecturer at Stanford School of Medicine with years of experience in developing digital educational content. After running a successful online course on child nutrition followed by thousands of people around the world, she has now decided to use her experience to help mothers in the developing world. “When we first introduced the teaching tablets, it was quite amazing to see how quickly these mothers picked up the new technology” she says. “In a way we are bypassing the blockage in access to education at least in the short term and providing these women with the opportunity to access knowledge using the technology we have today.”

According to Adam, who has spent years as a volunteer at Philani during her medical school and undergraduate studies, recruiting successful mothers and training them to become community health workers “is a powerful model for passing on good health practices in a way that is sustainable because women are counseling within their own communities. They are not going anywhere and they are not coming in from somewhere else with a solution that will then disappear when they leave.”

Adam hopes that the tablets will facilitate the learning and accelerate the training of new mentor mothers. Initial feedback from the twelve mentor mothers seems to confirm her intuition: responding to a questionnaire prepared by Stanford University, they all reacted enthusiastically to the introduction of the tablets in their work.

“Community health workers can help bridge the gap, in the short term, between what we need in access to healthcare providers and what we have,” says Adam. “If we wait for access to education and healthcare in South Africa to catch up with the need for it in these under-resourced communities, we are going to wait for a long time. By using technology like the tablets we can accelerate that process in communities otherwise cut off from main infrastructures.”

Adam intends to start an evaluation of the project next year, but is already working on a more ambitious goal of creating an open access health promotion library for community outreach workers.

“That’s my dream,” she says. “We are now raising funds for additional tablets, each costing around $170 U.S. dollars, and preparing translations of the videos into Spanish and other languages to extend the reach of this project. The videos are all picture-based, so they can easily be translated and used in other countries. We have the technology, we have the equipment. If we can get support, we can really put our heads down and start creating a comprehensive, multilingual, open access library to promote the health of mothers and children everywhere.”

A promising tool

Stanford University is the latest of a number of projects providing health workers with mobile technology. OpenSRP, for example, is a tablet-based open source platform that allows health workers to register and track the health of their entire clients.

“The use of mobile health technologies is a promising mechanism to ensure that we can better measure health outcomes in order to inform processes intended to improve health along the continuum of care,” says Dr. Lale Say, coordinator of the adolescents and at-risk populations team at the Department of Reproductive Health and Research of the WHO. “Digital technologies like those used in this project have proven valuable for both community members as well as the health workforce to gain access to quality information that can help make timely and well informed health decisions that can impact on the lives of mothers and their children.”

Social Workers Act to Revitalize and Strengthen Resources in South Africa

Minister Bathabile Dlamini via Daily Maverick

More than 1200 South African social workers packed the auditorium at the Durban International Convention Centre Tuesday, March 24th for South Africa’s first Social Work Indaba. The event, sponsored by the Department of Social Development (DSD) which is somewhat akin to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), brings together DSD ministers and officials, academics and researchers, nonprofit administrators, policymakers, and frontline social workers for a discussion about the state of the social work profession in South Africa and where it needs to go. I am here with a delegation from Howard University where I taught policy and research for eight years in the School of Social Work. The Howard University Republic of South African project or HURSA, launched in 2000, is led by Dr. Jean Bailey, a graduate professor in human development and the director of the Center Drug Abuse Research.

The term “indaba” is derived from a Zulu language word meaning business or matter. It has been used to denote important gatherings in southern Africa. This is the first such meeting of social workers, and the leadership of the Ministry of Social Development is clear that the Social Work Indaba is more than just a gathering. It is a gathering with a purpose. The goal is to culminate the three-day meeting with an action plan for revitalizing social work in South Africa based on the reports and recommendations of six commissions: social work supervision and management; working conditions and retention strategies; social work practice; promoting integration and multi-disciplinary practices; professional and ethical considerations in social work; and capacity building of social work practitioners.

Opening breakfast at South Africa’s Social Work Indaba in Durban Convention Centre.

The first day was given largely to setting the theme of the indaba—Building a Caring Society. Together—and giving high-ranking officials the opportunity to have their say. The Minister for Social Development, Ms. Bathabile Dlamini, gave the opening address during which she passionately made the case for the need to revitalize and strengthen the social work profession in South Africa before rushing off to accompany President Jacob Zuma on a visit to one of the townships.

Preceding her was a poignant speech by Ms. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, a Deputy Minister of Development who is legally blind. She told her story of coming age as a blind person and how she had to fight to become as social worker. She stressed the need for the profession of social work to create specializations that address the needs of blind persons and people with autism. Two of her three daughters are blind.

I spent some time talking policy and research with Dr. Wiseman Magasela, the Deputy Director General for Research and Policy with the Department of Development about the challenges of generating resources for social services in South Africa. It was interesting to compare the struggle we have in the United States with those he faces in South Africa. For American social workers, our often boils down to a fight with conservatives and the Republican Party who believe that too much welfare is neither good for the country or the people who get it. South Africa’s struggle is about the sheer numbers of people who are poor after centuries of a brutal apartheid government.

About 45 percent of the 55 million citizens of South Africans live below the official poverty line, about 23 million people. Nearly 60 percent of government spending is devoted for the care of its indigent citizens. Poverty is declining but most people are getting enough support to barely eke out an existence. The Department of Social Development recognizes the importance of social workers in its drive to raise the living standards of South Africans. There are 23,000 social workers in South Africa which is about one-fifth the number of social workers per capita in the United States. They are looking to more than double the workforce in the next decade. Dr. Magasela is not sure how they will generate the resources needed to sufficiently educate and train another generation of social workers. But he knows it needs to be done.

As an American, I have grown to be cynical about and weary of people in power professing concern about the circumstances of the poor and most vulnerable citizens in our society. When House Ways and Means Committee Paul Ryan says he has a plan for the poor, one has to surmise he is ready to use a hatchet rather than an axe to make cuts to social welfare programs. But here, you have the sense that the African National Congress (ANC) really cares about the plight of its mostly black impoverished citizens. Let’s not get all mushy. I know that not everyone in power in South Africa is a genuine friend of the poor. However, a significant plurality is and I believe they are enough to make a difference.

I feel blessed to participate in this historic event. I will be working with the commission addressing working conditions and retention strategies talking about how social workers might organize themselves through specializations. I will be reminding them about the importance of training macro as well as micro social workers. Dr. Magasela needs more social work researchers and policy analysts to help make the case for more investment in social development. It is important to have well-trained administrators. I suggested that the DSD not rely solely on government spending but explore building public-private partnerships—that he use the research he is doing to convince the private sector that it is in the interests of all South Africans for them to make strategic social development investments.

Social Justice Seeker Nelson Mandela Dies at Age 95

Nelson Mandela

On December 5, 2013, former South African President and social justice seeker, Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95. As a result of his political activism, Nelson Mandela endured several arrests and eventually served 27 years in prison for treason and governmental sabotage because of his opposition to apartheid.

During his trial in 1958, Nelson Mandela married social worker, Winnie Madikizela, and the union produced two daughters before they divorced in 1996. At his final trial, while facing the death penalty, he eloquently stated to the court, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

After being imprisoned for nearly three decades, Nelson Mandela become South Africa’s first black President in the government’s first democratic election where both blacks and whites were allowed to vote. In his acceptance speech, Nelson Mandela stated, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,”.

According to BBC News,

Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela – who is known affectionately by his clan name, Madiba – had died shortly before 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT). He said he would receive a full state funeral, and flags would be flown at half-mast.

Crowds have gathered outside the house where Mr Mandela died, some flying South African flags and wearing the shirts of the governing African National Congress, which Mr Mandela once led.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was one of the world’s most revered statesmen after preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.

He had rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004. He made his last public appearance in 2010, at the football World Cup in South Africa.  Read Full Article

The  Nelson Mandela Foundation was created in 1995 as a vehicle to continue his legacy and work as a social justice seeker for human rights and the fight against oppression. The foundation is a coalition of networks and partnerships working collectively towards social justice. In his retirement video below, Nelson Mandela outlines the mission and vision for the launch of his charity.

Being Bad With Purpose: Joseph Morgan on Positive Women

This week, I came across a charity called Positive Women which is being championed by a British Actor named Joseph Morgan who plays “Klaus” on the hit CW series The Originals. Originally, Joseph Morgan was slated to play four episodes in the CW’s The Vampire Diaries with the possibility of earning more episodes or a recurring role. Now, he is living the American Dream with a new hit spin-off series of his own, but his charitable work started long before he became the infamous Niklaus Mikaelson the most feared vampire-werewolf hybrid on the planet.

Until this past week, I had never watched an episode of Vampire Diaries or The Originals. My mind needed to decompress from the 24 hour news cycle, so I retreated into the world of Netflix and Vampire Diaries just happened to be the series I decided to overdose on. The evil villain “Klaus” was so well-played that I wonder if the actor who played him mirrored psychopathic tendencies in his on life which led me to a video by Joseph Morgan on Positive Women.

According to the Positive Women website, Kathryn Llewellyn explains why it was important for her to help create this charity:

main-logoI’ve lived and worked in many countries across Africa and so I often get asked, why Swaziland. Swaziland is a country just next to South Africa, has a population of 1million and a country that most of the world has never heard about. It also has some of the most appalling statics that I want to share with you now:

  • Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world.
  • One of the lowest life expectancies in the world.
  • The last absolute monarch left in sub Saharan Africa.
  • 80% of the population live in extreme poverty.
  • 25% of Swazi children are orphaned.

These are statistics that just shouldn’t exist. When I talk about Swaziland, I often get the response, “well Kathryn its just a million people” and I always reply “yes exactly, it’s just a million people”. It’s a country that we can actually have an impact in and make a change that will inspire the world, by showing that change is possible.  Read More

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Washington, DC at the Center for American Progress for the release of their 2013 Poverty Report. While there, I also attended other events which attempted to rally support to prevent cuts to the food stamp program. At times, its easy to feel war weary and powerless to make any measurable changes that will impact the suffering vulnerable populations endure on daily basis. However, inspiration can strike when you least expect it, and the power of our words can make a difference in influencing others towards civic engagement. An interview Joseph Morgan did with Huff Post Live talking about Positive Women reminded me of that.

For more on Joseph Morgan, you can see him Tuesdays on the CW at 8 PM Eastern and 7 PM Central, and you can also view his interview on Positive Women below:

Social Work and Mahatma Gandhi: Part III of IV


Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change.

As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I suggested to them that my work of social reform was in no way less than or subordinate to political work.

The fact is, that when I saw that to a certain extent my social work would be impossible without the help of political work, I took to the latter and only to the extent that it helped the former. I must therefore confess that work of social reform or self-purification of this nature is a hundred times dearer to me than what is called purely political work.”11

Gandhi-on-PeaceMahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Whilst I criticize this part of missionary work, I willingly admit that missions have done indirect good to India. There is no doubt about this. But for my having come under Christian influence, some of my social work would not have been done. My fierce hatred of child marriage I gladly say is due to Christian influence.

I have come into contact with many splendid specimens of Christian missionaries. In spite of differences I could not possibly help being affected by their merit. And so you will find growing up in my Ashram unmarried girls, though they are free to marry if they wish. I am speaking not of university women but of girls who belong to the uneducated class.”12

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “The women certainly do social work, but as individuals. I should like them to assume responsibility as a body, for some social service. This will create in them capacity for organization. When such capacity has been created, individuals may come and go but the organization will remain.

God has given such capacity only to human beings. In our country, women have not cultivated it so far. The blame for this lies with the men. But that is a question with which we need not concern ourselves just now. If we believe that women must acquire this capacity for organization, we should try to cultivate it in them. It does not matter if we commence only with my writing a letter to their Association and their replying to me. Slowly (no matter, if very slowly) we may take up other activities. If you have fully understood what I have suggested and if the suggestion has appealed to you, if the other women also approve of it and if they are ready to take interest in carrying it out, you may take up this work. If, however, you see difficulties in carrying it out or see no meaning in it, you may drop the idea.”13

Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action.

In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the professions national and international codes of ethics. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I wonder if you were able to pass on my letter about the opening ceremony to Vinayakrao. He has certainly done very good social work in Ratnagiri, and it must have been a very serious disappointment to him, as also to Sjt. Kir that you were disabled from performing the opening ceremony.”14

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I hope to be able shortly to issue a statement1 about the Village Industries Association. I might have issued it earlier, but, in spite of my getting up at half past two in the morning, I have not yet overtaken the arrears. But I shall presently put on speed. Of course, I shall want your assistance and that of all solid workers who would come forward. The resolution aims at moral uplift. Therefore, it includes social work so far as it can be advanced through village industries. If Jagannath offers his services and if he is allowed to do so, he will have to be a whole-timer.”15

Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors.

The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyses complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “I have now heard from Dr. Jayaram. He has come to the conclusion that Bhole never had any tuberculosis but whether he had any or not he is certainly now entirely free and that he should now leave the Sanatorium and take to some social work or continue his studies so as to take his mind off himself.”16


  • 11-VOL. 53 : 2 JULY, 1931 – 12 OCTOBER, 1931, Page- 168
  • 12-VOL. 53 : 2 JULY, 1931 – 12 OCTOBER, 1931, Page-  469
  • 13-LETTER TO PREMABEHN KANTAK; April 8, 1932
  • 14-LETTER TO M. R. JAYAKAR; February 25, 1933
  • 15-LETTER TO DR. GOPICHAND BHARGAVA; November 6, 1934
  • 16-LETTER TO RAMACHANDRAN; March 10, 1935

Social Work and Mahatma Gandhi: Part I of IV

bethechange (1)
“Be the Change You Want to Se in the World” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was a true social worker fighting against the evils of society. He always said, if you want to do social work, you start it yourself. He was very worried about poverty of India, and his political movements were also a type of social work.

Poverty was the main focus of early social work, and it is intricately linked with the idea of charity work. However, it must now be understood in much broader terms. For instance it is not uncommon for modern social workers to find themselves dealing with the consequences arising from many other ‘social problems’ such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination based on age or on physical or mental ability.

Modern social workers can be found helping to deal with the consequences of these and many other social maladies in all areas of the human services and in many other fields besides. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Your fear about my being engrossed in the political strife and intrigues may be entirely set aside. I have no stomach for them, least at the present moment, had none even in South Africa. I was in the political life because there through lay my own liberation. Montagu said, “I am surprised to find you taking part in the political life of the country!” Without a moment’s thought I replied, “I am in it because without it I cannot do my religious and social work,” and I think the reply will stand good to the end of my life.”1

mahatma-gandhi familyMahatma Gandhi wrote, “It has been suggested that this programme turns the Congress into a purely social reform organization. I beg to differ from that view. Everything that is absolutely essential for swaraj is more than merely social work and must be taken up by the Congress.

It is not suggested that the Congress should confine its activity for all time to this work only. But it is suggested that the Congress should for the coming year concentrate the whole of its energy on the work of construction, or as I have otherwise described it, the work of internal growth.”2

Whereas social work started on a more scientific footing aimed at controlling and reforming individuals (at one stage supporting the notion that poverty was a disease), it has in more recent times adopted a more critical and holistic approach to understanding and intervening in social problems. This has led, for example, to the reconceptualisation of poverty as more a problem of the haves versus the have-nots rather than its former status as a disease, illness, or moral defect in need of treatment.

This also points to another historical development in the evolution of social work: once a profession engaged more in social control, it has become one more directed at social empowerment. That is not to say that modern social workers do not engage in social control and many if not most social workers would likely agree that this is an ongoing tension and debate.

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “The hospital started under such auspices with fairly ample funds at its disposal should grow day by day and supply the need of the middle class women of Bengal. This hospital reminds us of the fact that social work was as dear to the Deshbandhu as political. When it was open to him to give away his properties for political work he deliberately chose to give them for social service in which women’s service had a prominent part.”3

Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “We realize, they say, that our real work lies in villages, and that while doing this work we can also do other social work among the villagers. By popularizing the use of the spinning-wheel we can convince people what a terrible disease their idleness is. Wherever the volunteers work in a spirit of service, they succeed in creating a sense of brotherhood among the people. And the difficulty of selling khadi, they point out, is avoided by following the method of getting people to stock their own cotton and produce khadi for their needs.”4


  1. VOL. 17 : 26 APRIL, 1918 – APRIL, 1919, Page- 124
  2. VOL. 29 : 16 AUGUST, 1924 – 26 DECEMBER, 1924, Page-  501
  3. VOL. 34 : 11 FEBRUARY, 1926 – 1 APRIL, 1926, Page-  446
  4. VOL. 36: 8 JULY, 1926 – 10 NOVEMBER, 1926, Page-  66

Power and Prejudice

by Christel Striekwold

Some years ago in 2009 the female Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie appeared at a TED conference. I was not present but saw her speech online a while later. She immediately caught my attention with her graceful and charismatic way of talking. Adichie spoke about the “danger of a single story”: about how we can often be so sure to understand how the world works and the people who live in it and how it can all turn around the other way if you hear a second story. Ever since I heard her talk I keep her words in mind and I like to show people her speech. Here I would like share with you some of my own experiences concerning a single story.

When I saw war and poverty on TV as a child I was sure that I would be able to solve it one day. I felt responsible and angry. At a very young age I was aware that there were people in this world who were not as fortunate as me. Injustice was unacceptable and people were either good or bad and rich or poor. My life was simple. I guess that’s how a child’s life is supposed to be.  After elementary school I went to a high school like any other high school in my country. I was, if I may so, a pretty ideal high school student. I never ditched classes, always did my homework the way I was supposed to and I even listened to what teachers had to say. I was a good girl who hung out with everyone she wanted to. But I remember a classmate asking me one day which group I belonged to. Having all these different cliques that are so typical of high schools, he found it necessary to put me in one. I found his question so stupid. Was it really necessary to belong to a group? Did I need to be one thing only for people to accept me? For him it definitely seemed necessary to put me in a box, otherwise he apparently couldn’t understand me and he didn’t really seem to try either. I guess labelling people made it easier for him to get a grasp on the world around him.

After graduating from high school I studied social work for four years. Once I finished, I kept on studying and traded the Netherlands for Belgium where I started criminology. I guess I always liked hearing different sides of the story. Then in the summer of 2009, after I had a pretty tough year, I thought it was time to spread my wings and go to South Africa to volunteer. I paid a lot of money to be able to go there. And that money, so I found out later on, mostly ended up going to the organization that took care of my trip, not to the family where I was staying. That’s one of the reasons why I now encourage people to take care of their own trip whenever they choose to volunteer. The money I made could have fed about 50 children in a rural African village. Nonetheless I was ready to make the world a better place and filled with young enthusiasm I eventually left. The situation makes me think now of what Adichie said in her speech; “Africans, ready to be saved by a kind white man”. What was I even thinking? Me, a young girl from the Netherlands, being able to help a whole country? A whole continent? Nevertheless, I had one of the most incredible eye-opening moments during my stay there.

The African continent had made quite an impression on me and in October 2010 I left again for Senegal. I started a second bachelor in International Cooperation and a six month internship was obliged. I started working with an NGO in Rufisque, a small town next to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Not being able to speak French at that time made it more difficult for me to integrate, although that experience made me realize later on how frightening it can be if you change cultures and everything is completely different from what you’re used to. But the Senegalese people being really friendly and hospital made me feel at home very quickly.

Around the fourth month of my stay I remember sitting on the seaside in Dakar with a new friend. We were enjoying the lovely view and the soft breeze when two middle-aged Western women walked by. They were being followed by a group of street children. Me and my friend were watching them as street children always find a way to get something out of tourists. One woman handed her terribly expensive camera to her friend after which she took some candy out of her bag. When she started handing it to the children the other woman made sure her generous friend as well as the poor children were in the picture. The situation made me really angry and I realized that I was already so much used to my new home that I got to see it in a different way. Then I could see the women sitting around the dining table with their families sharing stories of how the children were begging for candy and showing them pictures of it. Why could they not take pictures of the wonderful experiences that I’ve had living there? Could they not take pictures of the happy families living around? The craftsmen on the local markets? The fishermen? The women owning beauty salons? Why could they not share a different story?

It made me think and I realized later on that showing a different story is not only about randomly pointing your camera in a different direction, although I’m sure it can take you places. It’s merely about making a choice not to try and judge on the single story you already know and to keep gathering stories so you can learn and share your experiences. Although our opinions are often formed of what we see and hear directly around us it’s important to realize that there will always be another world we don’t know about and is left there for us to discover: a world without a political agenda, a world where power is only a word simply because it has no value. We each have the power and privilege to experience, feel and share that undiscovered part of the world. I’m not saying this because I suddenly became an expert on the topic. I’m saying this to make you think because in the end, we all cope with prejudices in our lives. So we also have to handle them. My Kenyan boyfriend told me a while ago about a party he went to when he was still studying in California. A girl came up and asked him for how long he had to drive to come there. Or the time when my roommate thought Kenyans are good runners because they cannot afford bicycles to go to school. And the numerous times when people react after seeing my passport and cannot understand why they don’t hear any Dutch accent, assuming being born in one country means you cannot speak other languages. Or all the years that I had my dreadlocks and everyone automatically assumed that I was a Bob Marley fan. I do appreciate his music, but that is not the point. It’s like Adichie said; “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete”.

I’ve been working as a community worker and counselor for a little while and I learn everyday from the people that I meet. Like a few weeks ago, when I went to visit a mosque in our neighbourhood. When I was having tea with the two Egyptian men responsible for the place they almost felt kind of pressured at some point to tell me that they were not terrorists. I felt the need to say; “don’t apologize”, but then I realized one person saying that wouldn’t make any difference.

My point is, and I think a lot of you will agree with me on this, that I take my “job” to tell stories, build bridges between people and start discussions very seriously. It goes beyond a professional level.  It’s who I am and who I choose to be. Or at least, how I choose to act and re-act. My world now is not good or bad neither is it only black or white. It’s black, white, and every colour in between. So I’m not going to end this article with a famous quote, because that would only assume people like you and me have nothing important to say. I’m going to end this article by saying that I believe in stories, many stories, stories that matter and make a difference. Stories that surprise us, touch us and wake us up. Because in the end, we are all part of the same novel.

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