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Social Work Grad Student Completes Field Work in Nepal
As a final requirement of the Masters in Social Work program, students must complete a field internship experience in order to earn their degrees. Most graduate students do their field work in local agencies or non-profit organizations, but Marisa Gonzalez wanted a different kind of field work experience. She wanted to practice the social work skills that she had learned in class in the third world country of Nepal.
Marisa graduated from MSUM with a degree in social work. After college she worked to resettle Bhutanese refugees coming from Nepal to the United States, which piqued her interest in international social work. Her interest in learning about other areas of the world also grew as she and her friend started a small, local, non-profit which allowed them to do humanitarian work in Cameroon. As a graduate student in the UND Master’s of Social Work program, her love for international social work continued to grow, and she decided that she wanted to complete her field work in Nepal.
With the support of her faculty, Marisa was able to find a field supervisor who worked in an undergraduate social work program in Kathmandu and secure a field placement that included time acting as an instructor in the social work program. Marisa taught two social work classes to Nepali undergraduate social work students, including planning the classes, lecturing, and grading papers and tests. She enjoyed learning from the students and learning about the Nepalese culture. “They have such a rich culture. Everything they do is immersed in their culture and religion. It is inspirational and so beautiful,” she said.
In addition to instructing, Marisa also began working with a non-profit organization called Women for Human Rights where she assisted with research and grant-writing. Women for Human Rights is a group that educates women who live in the slums of Kathmandu about women’s health issues, their rights, and health options. Unfortunately, Marisa and her friend Amanda, who was an intern from Sweden, were finding that by the time they began educating women about these important issues, it was already too little too late. Many of the women were already experiencing health issues as they were typically married and pregnant by the time they were 12 or 14 years old. In order to prevent some of the health issues that they were seeing, Marisa and Amanda created a health education program for young girls ages 12-17 who were living in the slums. Each week they would provide the participating girls with a safe space to talk about women’s rights, health, access to education, and oppression. The Girls Group allowed the girls to express themselves and discuss issues that were important to them, a practice that is not usually done in the poor, low caste areas of Nepal. Word of the Girls Group quickly spread to other girls in the village hungry for such conversations and the opportunity for their voices to be heard. Each week, when Marisa and Amanda arrived at the small, cement shack where they held their meetings, a line of girls was patiently waiting for them to arrive.
The shack where the group was held, with its stone walls and floor, was not an ideal location to allow for free-expression and new ideas. Luckily, Marisa and Amanda met an Art Therapist who was in Nepal volunteering. She began coming to their weekly Girls Group meetings and would incorporate art projects into the curriculum. In addition, she donated some of the money that she had raised for her trip to Nepal for a mural project to decorate their small stone room. The Girls Group participants worked together to paint the room to make it a more inviting and beautiful place to come together.
Although Marisa learned a great deal about social work in Nepal, her greatest experience was working with the people that she met who had a profound impact on her life. She developed a close friendship with Amanda and they supported each other through the good times and the bad. Marisa stated, “I am grateful to have had her with me while I was in Nepal, it was nice to have someone there who had similar interests and education as me who also understood the experience.” She also met a number of friends from all over the world who were in Nepal doing humanitarian work. Although she made some great friends, the girls in the slums had the greatest impact on Marisa during her stay.
“The girls who were part of the Girls Group are so smart, kind, and beautiful. It was humbling to see what having nothing really means. I had worked in a homeless shelter and with refugees before going to Nepal, but I didn’t know what it meant to truly be impoverished until I worked in the slums with them. They literally have nothing but each other and their families in the slums, with little to no opportunity of getting out due to the structure of the system in Nepal, which is hard to see, yet they are still able to be happy and they do the best they can. It is extremely humbling,” she said.
Shortly after returning from Nepal, Marisa graduated with her Master’s of Science in Social Work. She will continue to work at Churches United for the Homeless, the homeless shelter in Moorhead where she worked prior to leaving for Nepal. In addition, Marisa will stay connected to international social work as she will be serving as an adjunct instructor in the UND Social Work Department teaching Diversity in Social Work to undergraduate students in the spring. In the future she plans to become the Executive Director for a non-profit, preferably one that works with culturally diverse populations. Because of the impact of her social work professors, she also hopes to pursue her PhD and become a professor herself so that she can provide opportunities for future social workers.
Marisa remarked, “I can’t say enough what the experience in Nepal has done for me and how appreciative I am of the support from my professors. They listened, cared, believed in me, and helped make this experience happen. It wasn’t easy and was two years in the making. I was the first student to do a field placement in another country so my professors, especially Dr. Dheeshana Jayasundara, put in countless hours of their own time because they believed in this experience. I am so grateful.”