UWS professor to help bring social work education to Sri Lanka
For several years, Judy Dwyer has been working on a puzzle: Where are all the social workers in Sri Lanka? How are they trained? These questions will lead Dwyer, an associate professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, to Sr...
For several years, Judy Dwyer has been working on a puzzle: Where are all the social workers in Sri Lanka? How are they trained?
These questions will lead Dwyer, an associate professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, to Sri Lanka in February. She's taking a semester off from UWS to help design Sri Lanka's first social work program at the University of Kelaniya.
Dwyer's puzzle began with inquiries about the profession to Sri Lankan exchange students studying at UWS.
"They said, 'We don't have that,' " she said. "I said there has to be."
Dwyer didn't stop asking.
While visiting former students in Sri Lanka in 2003, Dwyer asked again. She found only one person who was a social worker.
People are employed in social work, and Sri Lanka's Ministry of Social Welfare offers some training and issues certificates, but there should be a university program, Dwyer said.
She returned to Sri Lanka to help with tsunami relief in 2005. While on that trip, she visited former UWS student Mauli Wickramasinghe and her mother, Daya, a teacher at the University of Kelaniya. Wickramasinghe connected Dwyer with K. Karunathilake, head of the sociology department.
Karunathilake was interested in starting a social work program, and Dwyer was interested in providing the information.
Dwyer returned to UWS and gathered up textbooks, course information and graduation requirements to send to Karunathilake.
He applied for permission to start a social work program and asked Dwyer for help.
"I'm looking forward to helping to see if I can move this effort forward," Dwyer said.
She's leaving Superior in January to do work in Southeast Asia. She will arrive in Sri Lanka in February or March and work at the University of Kelaniya for three months.
Dwyer will be helped on her trip through a Rotary Grant for University Teachers from Rotary International. It helps university professors travel abroad to teach in developing countries and is intended to build international understanding and strengthen higher education in underdeveloped countries, said Julianne Raymond, president of Superior Rotary.
Raymond, who works at UWS, said she could not remember any other UWS professor receiving the Rotary International grant. Twenty were awarded by the organization last year.
"It's really a great honor," she said. "I think it's wonderful because there are so many connections [between] UWS and the international community."
Dwyer said the trip would not be possible without the Rotary grant.
While at the University of Kelaniya, Dwyer will work with teachers to shape the social work program and design courses. She will speak with students and teach introductory social work classes.
"It will be a beginning," Dwyer said of her work.
The Sri Lanka program will face some obstacles. Professors are not trained in social work and have no practical knowledge of the field, Dwyer said. Also, the government is poor and cannot afford to pay its social workers a living wage, so the program will not have an economic appeal for students, she said.
"I feel very privileged that I could be part of helping to create what I think is an important part of community life," Dwyer said.