Eighteen students from New Mexico Highlands University School of Social Work had the chance to practice both their social work and Spanish-speaking skills during a two-week visit to Chihuahua City, Mexico.
While in Mexico, the students had the opportunity to shadow Mexican social work students from the city’s school of social work, Escuela de Trabajo Social, Guadalupe Snchez de Araiza. During the visit, students lived with host families and traveled to various areas surrounding the city of Chihuahua, including the colonias (rural, low-income villages near the city), rehabilitation centers and orphanages.
The Bilingual, Bicultural School of Social Work Master’s Program is the brainchild of Sara Harris, Dolores Ortega and Ray Martinez, all employed with Highlands.
Participants took two semesters of Spanish for social workers and followed up with an intensive two-week course during the summer. The group left for Chihuahua on Nov. 26. Alfredo Garcia, dean of the School of Social Work, said, “Highlands is the only school in the country with a program like this. We want to eventually expand it to our Rio Rancho campus and start social working in Juarez. We only look to bigger and better things in strengthening this program.”
Tracy Toppel, a student in the program, discussed the Escuela de Trabajo Social in detail.
“Social working is a fairly new thing in Mexico, and without a lot of funding from they government, they run it grassroots.”
Students of the Chihuahua school can get up to a bachelor’s degree in social work and often spend up to 12 hours a day talking to families in the colonias, researching the demographics of the community and showing presentations to families on things like domestic violence.
The Highlands University School of Social Work donated toys and food to families in need.
Also, a student, Nadine Flores, worked with children in a juvenile rehabilitation center. Social workers in Mexico often work to obtain an incarcerated person’s criminal history, and do not do any therapy.
“I learned to be more culturally aware and not to attach a stigma to everything. Plus my Spanish got better,” Flores said.
Students also visited orphanages. One student said, “eebecause Mexico doesn’t really have foster homes or anything like that, when children are taken away they’re put into orphanages. The government takes care of the children, literally.” However, when a child is born to an incarcerated woman, the child may remain in prison with the mother until age 5. Another student said, “There’s big emphasis on attachment and bonding.”
During the second and third week of April, 20 students from Chihuahua will be visiting Las Vegas, making the program a true exchange. While in Las Vegas, the students will tour prisons, the state Children, Youth and Families Department and schools in the area.
“We have more in common with people in Mexico then we care to acknowledge; we need to recognize our similarities,” Garcia said.