Social Work: How can it change the quality of life of people?
Social workers are the conscience of the society. These professionals “face people”and help them to solve the issues occurred in their lives. This how Mrs. Mira Antonyan, the President of Armenian Association of Social workers, describes her colleagues, telling how life welfare can be improved in Armenian society by creating literate system of social protection. The new three-year “Promoting Social Inclusion and Self-Reliant Livelihood Activities in Armenia” Project is aimed at that objective, which is implemented by AASW underadministration of World Bank and financed by which the Government of Japan (by the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF). The Project is implemented in close partnership with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia. In the context of the Project, Mira Antonyan presented the current state of the social protection system.
-What is social work and to whom is it addressed?
-Social work is about the quality of people's social relations. Commonly, when talking about social needs the emphasis is only made on basic needs such as financial opportunities, property conditions, access to various services, etc. However, human social needs have a wider scope and are based on social relations. The point is about the ability of creating efficient relationships within family, environment and other people. The role of a social worker is to help people establish social relationships and make them complete and self-reliant members of society.
-What do you mean by saying efficient social relationship?
- Everyone has problems and our life is, in fact, the solution to a chain of endless problems on a daily basis. Self-reliant people are not those who don’t have any problems (there are no such people at all), but those who know how to use the resources they have to solve these problems. These people know how to use their social relations to simultaneously be useful to other and get the help they need from others. Some people fail in this issue because they do not have the appropriate skills, and more specifically, the capacity to establish social relationships. Specifically, these people need a social worker’s assistance.
Moreover, I want to emphasize that I do not mean the level of education of a person, but his skills of living in society. Sometimes people with good education and high intellect also do not have proper skills of life, establishing and strengthening relationships, sense of responsibility, abilities to plan life and finances, etc. In other words, we are talking about social relations and skills that seem very simple at first glance. Thus, the social worker imparts skills to beneficiaries or to persons in need and helps them to live in harmony with themselves and others.
-What is poverty?
-The slogan of our new project intended to reform the field is “Overcoming poverty”. For sure, we need to clarify what we mean by saying poverty. After all, poverty is outcome. Many are poor, but fortunately a relatively small number of people suffer from a culture of poverty. There are poor families, who, however, are very clean, take care of their children, tell them a fairy-tails before going to bed, transfer energy and love. These people almost do not need the help of a social worker, as they are self-reliant. There are families who, apart from being poor, have nothing to give to their children. Everything that makes a person a beneficiary of our project or someone who needs the help of a social worker is not the poverty itself, but, in addition, the problems that have arisen. Why? Because if our goal was to solve a financial problem exclusively, we would just disseminate money to people or include it in the system of beneficiaries, which today, in fact, is done within the framework of a state strategy.
-What is the social protection system like in Armenia today?
-To get an idea of the system, we need to understand what the components of that system are. Let's talk about our state concept in the field of social protection which we inherited from the Soviet past when the social protection system took into account a person's vulnerability, i.e. visible, measurable or financial situation or, for example, disability. Meanwhile, the progressive practice of the world is guided not by the criteria of vulnerability, but by the criteria of risk. Consequently, a poor person can be considered vulnerable, but not under risk, because he is self-reliant. For human life activity vulnerability does not mean that a person is doomed. For example, there are people with disabilities who live a more self-sufficient life than many others and are not included in a group of risk for a social worker. In our state programs, social workers are guided by the criteria of vulnerability, only in the NGO sector that we can measure risk rather than vulnerability. Guided by the criteria of vulnerability alone, we do not get a real picture of who and to what extent needs the help of the social protection system.
-How will the project help solve these issues?
-On the one hand, we will try to send a message to the state system, proposing to review the approaches, to emphasize the risk rather than the vulnerability. From the other hand, we will send a message to different institutions, so that not all people to be treated equally, special service packages should be developed for high, medium and low risk groups.Of course, we will also work with social workers, training them not to assess vulnerability but risks, to see not only problems of beneficiaries, but also the resources that those people can use to overcome their problems. We will train about 200 social workers to work with a broader mindset, considering the components of social relations in parallel with the acute material needs. For example, if we are dealing with a refugee, the social worker should not consider the fact that of being a refugee, but what the person knows, what resources he has that can be used both for himself and for his family and society. In other words, in order to change the lives of our beneficiaries, we must first change the work style of our social workers.
-What is self-reliant livelihood, which is the key idea of the Project?
-Within the framework of the Project, we will show 11,000 people living in Ararat, Armavir, Kotayk, Shirak and Lori marzes what opportunities they have, even if they do not see themselves. By self-reliance we mean the inner balance of a person and the skills of developing plans for the future. Yes, it is a romantic approach, but social work changes culture. The social worker knows that the person who rolled over and appeared on the floor, must have a certain some reason. It is enough to show the person on the floor half a step of the ladder, to remind him how to take a step and he will start climbing it. People must become creators from the recipients of benefits, because with the current approach we simply exclude the abilitities of a person creating values on his own and include him in the list of beneficiaries, as if excluding the possibility of changing his living conditions.
We do not claim to solve all the problems with this Project, but we set a precedent and change the work culture. Eventually 300 beneficiaries (40% women) will receive a small grant to run their own business. This is a unique opportunity for us to bring changes through social workers. Social work does not claim to make everyone happy, but it can change the quality of social relationships and, consequently, the quality of life for all of us.
The JSDF was established by the Government of Japan and the World Bank as a mechanism to provide direct assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable groups in eligible World Bank countries. The aim is to enhance their capacities, strengthen their empowerment and participation in society and economic life.
Founded in 2004, The “Armenian Association of Social Workers” NGO (AASW) is a professional organization with more than 1000 members. The main goals of the Association are the development of social work education and practice in Armenia, protection of the rights and interests of social workers and their beneficiaries, and promotion of social protection reforms in Armenia.