Published in the Fall 2009 issue of SSA Magazine

A number of SSA students are interested in working overseas, and the School has a broad set of programs to internationalize the educational experience, including course content on comparative social welfare and field experiences and a student organization designed to support work internationally. This year, five SSA students were accepted into the University of Chicago's Human Rights Internship Program, which offers qualified students significant financial support to craft internships that allow them to learn the skills and understand the difficulties inherent in putting human rights into practice. SSA Magazine spoke with one of the participants, master's student Maddy Brigell, about her experience with the Centro Bartolome de las Casas (CBC) in El Salvador.

SSA: What did you do in San Salvador?

Brigell: I worked with CBC's Mental Health and Living Memory program, helping to plan and facilitate workshops with survivors of war atrocities in Arcatao, near the Honduran border in northern El Salvador. The goal is to research the impacts of religion and gender on the resiliency of trauma survivors while involving them in a process of healing and sharing of collective memories. I found myself very emotionally affected and incredibly inspired by the stories of this group of mostly elderly men and women.

I also helped with evaluation and research for CBC's "Masculinities" program, which works intensively with groups of men to explore what it means to be a man in their society, the origins of conflicts, sexuality, relationships and self-care. I was really really impressed by CBC's holistic approach to working with these groups for both the prevention and treatment of violence. Their use of cooperative games, participatory theater, meditation and dance therapy address both the physical and psychological affects of trauma and is innovative and culturally appropriate.

SSA: When did you become interested in international social work?

Brigell: I have been involved in work with international nongovernment organizations since college. I studied for a year in Dakar, Senegal, working with a microfinance NGO in the fishing industry, returning in 2003 to facilitate popular education workshops with rural women. Right before starting my master's program, I worked in Managua, Nicaragua with at-risk youth in a very poor neighborhood.

SSA: Do you see a lot of interest among your fellow SSA students in international social work?

Brigell: I do. I've met many other students who have volunteered abroad or who work with immigrants and refugees in the U.S. I think it's important for social workers to have an international perspective, not only to work in other countries, but to be able to address the needs of diverse populations in our own cities. I hope that master's programs such as the one here at SSA will continue to respond to this interest by increasing the course selections and field placement options.