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August 31, 2006

School of Social Work to train future Cambodian social work facullty

A University of Washington faculty member is spearheading an effort to bring the field and practice of social work to Cambodia where there currently is no program at the college level to train students to become social workers.

Tracy Harachi, an associate professor of social work at UW, has started the process of bringing promising students from Cambodia to study for their master’s degree in social work with the expectation that they will return to their home country to start a social work program. The Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia is joining with the UW to make this goal a reality.

“This is an exciting opportunity to help change the social landscape in Cambodia,” said Harachi, whose research and consulting work have taken her to Cambodia to learn first-hand about the Southeast Asian country’s social conditions for the past five years.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and has experienced the multiple legacies of genocide, civil war and colonization. It has the highest rates of infant mortality and HIV infection in Asia, and the majority of the people reside in rural areas where access to water or sanitary facilities is scarce,” she said

Harachi believes that a college-level social work program in Cambodia can help educate Cambodians to be “social welfare leaders” who can address the country’s wide range of social issues.

“Cambodia today is filled with motivated young people who want to make a difference in their country,” she added. “They are eager to take leadership roles and anxious to gain new tools and knowledge to improve the quality of life for the next generation.”

To this end, the UW’s School of Social Work is admitting two cohorts of students from Cambodia to begin studying for their master’s degree in social work. The first cohort of two students — Ly Long (whose interest is in disabilities) and Dalin Meng (whose interest is in counseling and mental health) — will begin classes next month 2006. Joining them will be a Maryknoll missionary, Sister Len Montiel, who is Filipino and will be returning with Long and Meng to help set up the department in Phnom Penh. The second cohort will be admitted next fall.

The new department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh will begin enrolling students in autumn 2008.

“This program gives us a rare opportunity to help create a local educational infrastructure in Cambodia that will nurture and develop native leadership in social welfare,” said Harachi.

Once the program at Phnom Penh gets off the ground, the UW School of Social Work will continue to provide guidance and assistance to nurture the program to maturity. A growing number of agencies and organizations in both the United States and Cambodia are supporting this project, which comes on the eve of an international tribunal that will investigate and try former Khmer Rouge leaders, an event that is likely to evoke psychological trauma among many Cambodians who lived through those violent and terrifying years.

Financial donations and in-kind support have helped launch the partnership, but additional funds — both large and small — are needed to sustain the project beyond the short-term future.

“When people support this project they are helping to positively impact an entire country for many generations to come,” she said.

Anyone interested in joining the effort to create a social work program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh may send contributions to the Development Office at the University of Washington School of Social Work, Box 354900, 4101 15th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98115. Please indicate that the contribution is for the RUPP Partnership.

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For more information, contact Harachi at tharachi@u.washington.edu.