Different cultures have a way of creating different systems and services to cater to the cultures norms and needs.  While in India, I witnessed a service being provided that although might not match the American culture, would likely benefit a large span of the population.  Apala Ghar is an old age home, orphanage, and rural training center in India.  It houses both the elderly and children to create a communal living space resembling that of a single home or a family.

In American culture, there are services for the youth and services for the elderly.  The United States has adoption agencies, group foster homes, and services dedicated to great care for orphan children.  Services for the elderly population is often found in assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities or independent living facilities.  The U.S. is a structured as a culture of independent living and the likelihood of Americans utilizing long term care facilities at some point in their aging process or living alone is high.  It is stated that four out of every 10 older people (age 65 and up) will stay in a nursing home at least once, and nearly 1 in 10 will stay for 5 or more years (U.S. Care, 2006).  In addition, in 2005, 40 percent of individuals age 75 and older in the United States lived alone. This data suggest that many older adults require some type of assistance and may not be able to depend on family members for the care they need (Lehning & Austin, 2010).

The culture in India more strongly resembles one of family, sharing, intergenerational living.  About 7.6% of India’s population is above 60 years old. The elderly in India face multiple social, political, economic and cultural challenges including financial security, decline of traditional extended family systems, and increasing costs of health care. In India, as is the case in many developing countries, the health systems are inadequate to promote, support and protect health and social well-being of the elderly due in part to lack of human and financial resources (Krishnaswamy et al., 2008).  As a result, it is the culture so closely tied to taking care of one’s family that allows the elderly to remain at home as opposed to utilizing long term care facilities.

Although group home placements for children can have great benefits, it is also shown that volatile placement histories contribute negatively to both internalizing and externalizing behavior of foster children, and that children who experience numerous changes in placement may be at particularly high risk for these behavior problems as both a cause and as a consequence of placement disruption (Newton, Litrownik, & Landsverk, 2000).

Observing the result of this combining of services for the old and for the young was a unique and eye opening experience.  I witnessed love and care across generations within a facility, that I have not frequently been exposed to.  The (approximately) 14 children and 12 elderly residents were a family.  The elderly instilled wisdom and grace while the children provided youthful energy and a joyful innocence.  I have yet to determine how I will foster this passion into practice, but my love for children as well as my love for working with the geriatric population just found new inspiration on which to build and move forward as I continue to create my path in the social work field.

Krishnaswamy, B. B., Than Sein, U. U., Munodawafa, D., Varghese, C., Venkataraman, K., & Anand, L. (2008). Ageing in India. Ageing International, 32(4), 258-268. doi:10.1007/s12126-008-9023-2

Lehning, A. J., & Austin, M. J. (2010).  Long-term care in the United States: Policy themes and promising practices.  Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 53, 46-63.  doi:    10.1080/01634370903361979

Newton, R., Litrownik, A., & Landsverk, J. (2000).  Children and youth in foster care: Disentangling the relationship between problem behaviors and number of placements. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1363-1374. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(00)00189-7

U.S. Care. (2006).  Why think about long-term care? Retrieved from http://www.uscare.com/whyltc.html


One of my greatest pleasures in India was learning about Shelter Associates, an organization which I feel is doing impressive and successful work related to the social justice issues of poverty and homelessness, while working with the government.  Shelter Associates is a Non Profit Government Organization (NGO) working in Pune, India comprising Architects, social workers, GIS experts and community workers working with urban poor particularly women in informal settlements to facilitate and provide technical support to community managed housing (slum rehabilitation) and infrastructure projects.  Not only do they provide housing for the urban poor, they provide health hygiene and sanitation, education training and employment and conduct mapping and research.  They also recognize that the planning for the poor must have the poor as the largest participants in plan design, implementation and management or it fails as a sustainable and replicable project.
This new spin on government housing was an inspiration for how to tackle the challenging global issue of poverty within a government structure.  It appears that combining efforts of the poor, the NGO, and the government is one of the main contributors to the success of Shelter Associates.  This is a progressive organization that deserves recognition, and I can only hope to see some resemblance of this model in the United States in the future.

My journey East was inspiring to say the least.  With exposure to a variety of civil society organizations (CSO’s), it was easy to identify passion, motivation, and community action taking place.  Some remarkable organizations started as a result of an expressed need by a community member or as a result of a personal anecdote.  Unbelievably enough, with limited resources and less than adequate tools a variety of programs have been established throughout areas of India.  India has its own community and cultural needs like everywhere else in the world, but one thing that struck me as highly prevalent, was the need for shelters and homes for a diverse population of people in need.  I witnessed lives that have been changed as a result of one dedicated angel or a team of givers; people who saw a problem and took action to create these “safe havens” for people with limited resources in dire situations.
One of the incredible organizations that we had the privilege of visiting is Maher, which means “Mother’s Home” in Marathi.  It is a haven of hope, belonging and understanding, where women not only feel love and comfort but are assured security.  Maher originated as women and children’s shelter that offers support for victims of domestic violence.  Shelter programs offer multiple services to battered women, including support, advocacy, social service referrals, transitional housing, legal resources, resources for children, and mental health and substance abuse referrals.  Research suggests that battered women who seek more forms of help while in a shelter report less revictimization (Berk, Newton, & Berk, 1986).
Domestic violence is a global public health and criminal justice problem that has enormous consequences for the health and well-being of millions of women and children throughout the world (Roberts, 2007).  One of the ultimate goals of Maher is to change the attitude of society, especially of men towards women.  It is critical to recognize that domestic violence is still largely hidden around the world.  It is also important for policy makers and public health officials to address the health and human costs and for each country to develop national plans, policies, and programs for the elimination and prevention of violence against women and children (Roberts, 2007).  Maher encompasses a vision of a new society where men, women, and children have opportunities for growth education and happiness and is a step in the right direction for addressing this issue, world wide.  It was truly an honor to see this vision in action.

Berk, R. A., Newton, P. J., & Berk, S. F. (1986). What a difference a day makes: An empirical study of the impact of shelters for battered women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 481–490.

Roberts, A. R. (2007).  Battered women and their families: Intervention strategies and treatment programs (3rd Ed.).  New York, NY, US:  Springer Publishing Company


The social work profession has begun to recognize the impact of globalization on almost every problem with which the profession is concerned.  To such universal everyday problems affecting the status of women, aging populations, family breakdown, drug addiction, and child abuse and neglect, massive new problems have emerged.  Problems such as these demand the attention of social work educators and practitioner, together with every professional group working toward their solution (Healy, 2001).
For social work, the place to start is in preparation for the profession (Healy, 2001).  In light of this preparation, it is significant to look at some of the premier institutes in India where social work training is taking place.  It is critical to recognize that neglect of international content in the social work curriculum is due to the lack of knowledge drawn only from first hand experience in other lands.  Thanks to exposure to some of the finest institutes during our time over seas, it is evident that India possesses a need, passion, and structure for the social work profession to soar.  This exposure is a stepping stone, for social workers around the world, to gain valuable first hand experiences and become familiar with social work training, world wide.
In visiting a variety of institutes and building relationships with faculty and staff, I have learned that the social work profession, in both the U.S. and India, has similar values, motivations and training.  It is clear that the social work values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence are significant and respected.  A recognition of community needs and motivation for action are evident and clearly expressed, and academia in India possesses a certain rigor and sophistication that, from my limited perspective, was unexpected and refreshing.
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) envisions itself to be an institution of excellence in higher education that continually responds to the changing social realities through the development and application of knowledge, towards creating a people centered and ecologically sustainable society that promotes and protects the dignity, equality, social justice and human rights for all, with special emphasis on marginalized and vulnerable groups.  The school offers teaching programs, research, outreach and field action projects to best prepare its students for real world work.  The institute continually responds to changing social realities, with a specific focus on marginalized and vulnerable groups, working towards people-centered development.  Our visit to TISS provided an appreciation for the history of social movements and social reform that helped establish social work as a profession.  It also put into perspective that social work in India has emerged from religion and the social organizations that came from the social reform, instigating change; “we (the people) want peace, not pieces”, was a common theme.
Maharashtra Institute of Technology School of Government (MIT-SOG), Pune-India, is the first of its kind as a premier institute in Asia, which creates dynamic leaders, empowering them with the knowledge and expertise for managing politics and social scenarios through a comprehensive training and practical approach to governance.  During our time spent at MIT-SOG we learned about history, government, economics, and culture to truly aid in our understanding of the social justice issues that are present in Indian culture and to gain an appreciation for the breadth of knowledge being passed on to younger professionals in a complex society.
The Center for Studies in Rural Development (CSRD), Institute of Social Work & Research, Ahmednagar is one of the pioneer institutions in community extension and social work education in India. The institute is aided by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of Maharashtra and provides focuses on teaching, research and extension activities in rural development.  To experience rural India and talk with students who are passionate about community advocacy, support, resource implementation and community education gave us “real life” exposure to the unique challenges in rural areas.  These students had a particular interest in the unique culture of rural India and exuded excitement, energy and intelligence for what they were studying and what they hoped to pursue as professionals.
Throughout the valuable time spent with each powerful and progressive institute, it was easy to relate to the passion, determination and, concepts associated with the profession of social work.  The challenge of cultural competence remains.  However, even if our cultures cannot fully understand each society and culture’s characteristics, there is a strong tie in knowing that stemming from our unique characteristics there is a sense of  “oneness” and general understanding of working towards a common goal of upholding professional social work values.

Healy, L. M. (2001).  International social work: Professional action in an interdependent world. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

I am a second year graduate student in the UNC School of Social Work Distance Education program.  I was presented with the possibility of spending two weeks exploring the mystical land of India with approximately 30 social work students.  Naturally, I latched onto this “once in a lifetime” opportunity to explore culture, social justice issues and, as I learn about social work where I live in the United States, learn about what social work entails in a foreign land.  As someone who uses journaling as habitually as brushing my teeth, I was able to not only catch my experiences, but also my raw emotions attached to all that I was taking in.  After significant time for reflection, I have been able to pull my thoughts together and would like to share my perspective on some of my findings.  It is a reflection on what I saw, what I experienced and most importantly, what I have learned.  Thanks for reading.

“The ultimate aim is to bring everyone together, the world as one family.” – Dr. Karad, Founder President & Director General, World Peace Center of MAEER’s MIT, Pune, India.

Finally, an update

After an excruciating trip across the world, I have arrived in India! I had similar difficulties as Rebecca in my travel efforts due to the suddenly snowy east coast…had to stay overnight in Charlotte (this turned out okay, as I got to visit with my friend Kellie) then flew to Rome, missed a flight from Rome to Istanbul and was re-routed to Frankfurt, to Delhi and finally to Mumbai, only to hop in a taxi for a long drive to Pune. I have had many new, enlightening experiences now that I am approaching my 4th day in India. We have visited Maher- beautiful school for women and children, a School for Blind Girls, and Eklavia- home for “street children.” We’ve also spent time in classes at MIT School of Government learning about India’s culture and politics and interacting with students and teachers there.

I must say my most shocking experience so far has been the pollution and lack of sanitation here in India…it really is a dirty place (compared to USA). As we ride through the streets in our motorized rickshaws, breathing in the smog dead on, there is a thick layer of grey smog just permeating everything. I had to get used to it, and have really not had anything worse than a stuffy nose- but it just seems unhealthy and unfair. I’m finding myself constantly thinking about where one would start in efforts to clean the place up? I’ve noticed no real government presence around the streets to enforce a no littering policy, not even any trash cans available for when I need to throw something away…it certainly seems like a basic need that should be addressed.

We’ve got two more days in Pune then it’s off to Jaipur, “the Pink City” I’m looking forward to shopping, seeing some palaces and some camels and continuing to learn there. This trip is really flying by! Off to sleep so I can be prepared for yoga early in the morning!



I’m writing from the city of Pune in Maharashtra state in central India. It’s a place of baggy Princess Jasmine-style dupatta pants, Bollywood songs, and waves of humanity. The first few days of our visit to India have been full of activities and surprises. Most of our group arrived late (some as many as five days!) due to snowy weather on the east coast of the U.S. and/or smoggy conditions in Delhi. Our partners here in India – including UNC alum Darshan Mundada, MSW, and volunteers from the Friends Society of Pune – were relentlessly energetic and welcoming, ensuring that each participant arrived safely and united with our group. We were able to spend time in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, where we enjoyed a visit to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India’s premiere school of social work.

And we continued on to Pune, considered the Oxford of the East because of its high density of institutes of higher education. One such university is the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), whose Masters of Government Studies students greeted us at the World Peace Center for a series of memorable lectures and lunches.

One purpose of our trip is to experience and learn about Indian community service organizations, and consider them in comparison with our U.S. sensibilities about social services. In that vein, we were lucky to visit Maher (http://www.maherashram.org/), a home and vocational training center for women and children who have experienced abuse. The agency’s founder, known to friends and community members as Sister Lucy, is a Catholic nun. Years ago a woman, seven months pregnant, approached Sister Lucy in distress; she was afraid that her husband planned to kill her in order to bring another woman into the home. Sister Lucy didn’t know of resources to help, and she was not able to shelter the woman overnight. She asked the woman to return the following day, but devastatingly, Sister Lucy never again saw her alive. That evening, Sister Lucy was summoned emergently to the street. The woman who had approached Sister Lucy earlier that day emerged in flames, drenched in kerosene and lit on fire by her husband. Sister Lucy rushed the woman to a hospital, but it was too late: both mother and fetus had been killed. This unthinkable incident inspired Sister Lucy to create a meaningful way to care for the survivors of domestic violence; she vowed never again to turn away a woman in need. In this way, Maher was born. The center, located in the outskirts of Pune, houses many women and over 200 of their children in a warm, safe environment. Sister Lucy’s story, and the resilience of the women and kids we met, were sobering and inspiring.

Later we were fortunate to visit the Poona (the Hindi pronunciation of Pune) School and Home for Blind Girls. The agency is home to several dozen schoolaged girls who attend both academic and vocational classes, with the latter including loom weaving, sewing machine use, jewelry making, and musical training. The school’s dancing and singing team has reached national competition level! I was especially honored to meet the agency’s social worker, a young woman who has dedicated ten years to her position coordinating services and working to help make each young woman able to live independently by her eighteenth birthday. It was a true treat to see these girls use sewing machines with more nuance and skill than I may ever have!

Eklavya hosted a further visit for our group of social work students and faculty. This organization serves as a home and community center for street children and children of commercial sex workers (CSWs). Although all of the children have parents, they are often not able to live with their families. We learned that the apartments of many CSWs are as small as four feet by six feet, which includes a working area with pad or bed and a small area for the rest of a woman’s belongings. Women with greater resources may be able to purchase a curtain separating the work space from the living space – but for too many of these children, being kicked out of home in the early hours of the morning when their mothers need to service a customer is an all too real occurence. Thus, Eklavya serves as a safehaven for these children. Again, the social workers at this agency demonstrated unbelievable flexibility and availability, sleeping on the floor of the agency and earning the equivalent of $200 US per month.

And today we visited my favorite agency thus far: Aplagher, an orphanage and old age home. The organization seeks to return to a community model of interaction, honoring India’s tradition of close mentoring relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. It was wonderful to see elders spending time with the fourteen children of this small orphanage. The reciprocity of this solution and the sweet, genuine demeanor of kids and seniors alike, astounded me. Like the residents of Aplagher, the agency’s founder shared his personal story of resilience against all odds with us. His father passed away when he was eight years old, and although his mother worked as a maid, life was difficult for mom and son. He ran away to beg in Mumbai, but was saved by a kind stranger and placed in an orphanage. He went on to school, married, and enjoyed a successful career at a TV station. He was further challenged by the loss of his only son to cancer. Seeking to adopt a child, he decided instead to use his knowledge of orphanages and love for children in founding an independent orphanage. He later reunited with his mother, who now lives at Aplagher with the other elder residents. This organization and the people there touched my heart and renewed my enthusiasm for intergenerational relationships!

Tomorrow we head to a rural school of social work, where we hope to make donations of textbooks and articles to assist our rural social work peers in their learning. Then it’s on to Mumbai via train, and Jaipur and Agra. The School of Social Work and our partners in India have designed a very busy (and wonderful) schedule, so I won’t make promises about when I’ll next write. All of us send our good wishes to our loved ones in the States, and to our new friends at agencies in India. What a whirlwind it’s all been!

In honor of brilliant saris, new friends, rickshaw rides, and the can-do attitudes of Indian social workers, I bid you so long.