Here at Chicago Center, students get firsthand experience in issues of social justice and community engagement every day. Spring ’12 Social Work Practicum student Siri Lokensgard wrote about an unforgettable experience during her Social Work placement.
“Throughout the entire day, I was at Legal Assistance Foundation in the South Loop helping them with a Children Across Borders Event, in which lawyers, judges, social services providers, and attorney generals from around the world come to the United States under the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Visitors from Brazil, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Uruguay, Netherlands, and Cambodia (to name only a few) were present to discuss issues regarding children, such as poverty, abduction, foster care, trafficking, and immigration. All of these individuals were coming together to provide more insight into these issues internationally and offer the United States a better understanding and perspective of these problems at large. This was probably one of the coolest and most interesting things that I have ever been a part of. It was very neat to see this unification of influential leaders from around the world come together to address and fight against these social injustices.
In the afternoon, I attended the meeting, interacted and talked with these leaders about social justice issues. I felt so fortunate being able to discuss issues that I have been researching, getting a better understanding of international efforts and cultural practices. I think it helped me become a lot more competent not only culturally but also academically. It definitely made me reflect on and critique the way our systems work in the United States. For example, in many of the countries being represented, they do not believe in nursing homes, viewing them as shameful and disrespectful to the elderly. In addition with all of this, we broke up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics, such as community engagement, trafficking, social work, and immigration issues. I had the honor of actually leading one of these discussions. I couldn’t believe that, as only an undergraduate student, I would get to lead a group of influential leaders from around the world on issues that I am passionate about. In this discussion, we talked about social work efforts, theories/models, challenges systemically and institutionally, and creative strategies. In this discussion, I learned a lot more about foster care efforts in other countries.
Finally, we ended the event by having a time for networking. I had been itching to talk with this man from Cambodia on the issue of sex trafficking, since that is a passion of mine and a field of practice for him, as I learned during introductions. Through this connection, I was able to see possible work in Cambodia some day for myself. This entire day just empowered me, giving me new energy to take on social justice issues around the world, teaming up with others to truly make a difference.”