November 15, 2007

Social workers in Middle East benefit from training

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. — Social workers in the Middle East are better able to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees thanks to education they're receiving through Southern Illinois University Carbondale. On Friday, Nov. 16, a pair of SIUC officials will head to the Middle East to recognize these special relief and social services workers and their efforts.

Sandra B. Rhoads, associate director of the SIUC Division of Continuing Education, and James E. Bordieri, interim associate dean in the College of Education and Human Services, will travel to Syria, Jordan and the West Bank Nov. 16-25. There, they'll present certificates of completion and transcripts of continuing education units to nearly 150 social workers in the Relief and Social Services Program under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. They'll also speak during special ceremonies honoring those completing the Certified Education Program in Social Work.

It's the culmination of a collaboration that began in 2004. At that time, Hussein Soliman, a professor in SIUC's School of Social Work, developed a two-year program to upgrade the skills and knowledge of social workers affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Soliman said while the social workers are educated people, their formal educations aren't necessarily in social work.

The goal is to provide them with skills in counseling, social services and intervention strategies to help individuals, families and entire communities. Working with Beth Kuttab, director of the Relief and Social Services Department at the Amman, Jordan headquarters of the UN agency, Soliman and SIUC officials set up the international collaborative educational program. During spring and winter breaks, Soliman and other American professors traveled to Jordan, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to teach the eight-course program.

"We're giving them the education so they can provide counseling and social services, not just distribute money to refugees in need but really do assessments and provide them with help and resources," Soliman said. He said when they complete the program they will have "the most advanced knowledge in social work available."

Social workers in three of the countries completed the 36 continuing education units in January. Soliman said 55 in Syria, 51 in Jordan and 43 in the West Bank have finished and recognition is now going to them. Soliman said plans call for UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd to attend one of the ceremonies. Soliman said about 50 social workers in Lebanon will soon be wrapping up the fourth and final session, while educational efforts in Gaza are temporarily on hold due to political unrest.

Beneficiaries of the enhanced education provided through the SIUC program are more than 4 million registered refugees residing in the five regions, Soliman notes. The educational program, funded to the tune of about $1.2 million largely by donor countries including the United States, is all about helping social workers better help the families in the camps.

"We're giving them the practical education to allow them to best work at the micro and macro levels," Soliman said.

With their presence and speeches, Rhoads and Bordieri will recognize the hard work of the first group to complete the international, collaborative social work program. Soliman said the training may be repeated in the future if needed for new social workers hired.

"The significant day-to-day hardships faced by the Palestine refugees are well-documented," Bordieri said. "This program represents a wonderful proactive approach to improving the quality of life for these people."

"This is an excellent example of the many programs at the Division of Continuing Education and the academic department at SIUC conduct to extend our University mission worldwide," said Susan C. Edgren, acting director of the Division of Continuing Education.

"Continuing education is very important for most careers in today's world," said Rhoads. "It's a reality for professionals."

For more information about the social work program, contact Soliman at 618/453-2243. For additional details about the United Nation's program look online at