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(February 22, 2001, Gazette)

Working for better social services and health
Outreach to Vietnam

By Sharon Gray

Dr. Lan Gien (L) and Dr. Elizabeth Dow at the Children’s Peace Village in Hanoi.

Memorial’s School of Nursing has been involved in improving the quality of nursing education in Vietnam for the last four years, and now a joint project with the School of Social Work is targeting the area of social services and health.

Dr. Elizabeth Dow, Social Work, and Dr. Lan Gien, Nursing, have joined forces to better the quality of life in rural Vietnam by improving social services for women, children, the elderly and disabled people. Dr. Ken Barter and Sharon Taylor of the School of Social Work are also members of the team. The five-year project has received a grant of $749,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), administered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

Dr. Gien is already well-acquainted with working in Vietnam. She heads up a four-member team of nursing faculty from Memorial who work with the Secondary Technical Medical School One in Hai Duong province to train nursing teachers who, in turn, teach courses to nurses in Vietnam in areas such as mental health and primary health care. Dr. Gien said that during her work in Vietnam the Vietnamese government expressed a need to improve the training of social workers.

“When I came to Memorial in 1998, Lan told me about the work she was doing in rural Vietnam,” said Dr. Dow. “We linked up and had an opportunity last April to go to Hanoi and meet with faculty at the College of Labour and Social Affairs.

A woman in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

“We looked at their curriculum with them. It has a theoretical and sociological focus and lacks practical social work perspective. Vietnamese officials have identified and targeted specific social needs, such as reducing the poverty which is a result of the increasing gap between the rich and poor in a market economy. The poverty is partly due to the fact that many people have been maimed during the war, some from landmines, while others have been born with deformities from the effect of Agent Orange. This has resulted in a large population of disabled individuals who are poor.

“Despite the extreme poverty and deprivation, the Vietnamese people are very resilient. The population has grown rapidly within its very small land mass from 40 million to 78 million people.”

Unlike Canada, Vietnam does not offer extensive social programs such as health plans and financial safety nets like social assistance. “They are very different, culturally and economically,” said Dr. Dow.

Under the CIDA-funded project, Drs. Dow and Gien will facilitate how social work is taught and implemented in Vietnam. Using a community development approach, social work curriculum that is culturally-sensitive and relevant will be developed with the College of Labour and Social Affairs.

Part of the Memorial University project will involve facilitating additional training for faculty from the Vietnamese college. “Many have psychology or sociology degrees and would like to earn social work degrees,” said Dr. Dow. “We may develop some sort of model similar to the one we have with the Inuit, developing programs for people within their own environment who can then become teachers.”

Dr. Gien said, “There are a large number of people working in the area of social work, but their qualifications need to be upgraded. This project will provide additional knowledge and skills for social work teachers and also provide workshops to improve the qualifications of those who are working in rural areas.”

The project also includes a community outreach component by establishing a clinical institute where students and teachers can apply the new knowledge and skills to directly serve the disadvantaged groups of surrounding communities. Health education will be integrated into all activities to improve health and self-care of these same groups.

A planning mission will be held in Vietnam within the next few months to finalize details about how the project will be implemented. “The emphasis has to be on issues for women, children, elderly people and disabled people,” said Dr. Dow. “We want to focus on particularly vulnerable groups.”

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