Professor Martha Bragin Uses UNICEF Grant to Advance Social Welfare in Afghanistan
On April 23, 2014, Afghanistan's Kabul University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony of national significance: the opening of its first-ever department of social work.
"It was a very exciting moment," said Hunter Professor Martha Bragin, who has been a leader in this groundbreaking endeavor. "Afghanistan once prided itself on its excellent care and protection for children. But the country's ability to provide services has been eroded by 30 years of armed conflict. Professional social work will make a difference." The new department has spots for four faculty members and 30 bachelor's-degree candidates, and there are ambitious plans for future growth throughout the national university system.
Bragin is both an alumna of Hunter's Silberman School and the chair of its Global Social Work and Practice with Immigrants and Refugees. In partnership with Eileen Ihrig, director of International Programs at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, she won a competitive grant from UNICEF for her pioneering work. The project in Afghanistan was made possible by strong support from Silberman School Dean Jacqueline Mondros and Hunter Research Administration Director Robert Buckley. Silberman Professor Marina Lalayants helped create the curriculum with the assistance of two Afghan-American Hunter graduates Sally Pitanga (MSW '10) and Nahid Noori (BA '09).
Working with colleagues from UNICEF, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Higher Education and their NGO partners, Bragin led a participatory research team that toured the country to learn about the elements necessary to develop uniquely Afghan social work. That research helped her determine the specific academic training social workers need to successfully serve local families and communities, and with that understanding, she and her team developed competency standards, curricula and syllabi at the associate's, undergraduate and graduate degree levels. One critical goal is to give tomorrow's ministers and managers the education that will enable them to run their country's social-welfare infrastructure while safeguarding justice, human rights and the Afghan constitution.
"It's important to have graduate social workers sit on leading ministries and say, 'This is where we need to put our funds and energies,'" Bragin explained.