Second National Social Workers Conference in Malawi – 26-28 November 2019
Malawi presents some stark figures when it comes to social work concerns. The country remains one of the world’s least developed countries, ranking 172 out of 189 countries and territories on the Human Development Index. Over 70 per cent of the population live below the income poverty line and approximately 63 per cent of children live in poverty. Child marriage remains high with 46.7 per cent of girls married before the age of 18. With Malawians keen to develop their country and with a growing social work workforce it was pleasing to see Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Mary Thom Navicha, officially launch the Association of Social Workers of Malawi at the Social Workers conference in November 2019.
Social work in Africa has a strong focus on community and social development because practitioners need to reinforce initiatives to strengthen and enable people to develop self-reliance. As in other sub-Saharan African countries, social work in Malawi is relatively young, with a shortage of front line social workers, particularly at the district level. A more professional and well-informed response is required to provide more effective services.
A charitable group ‘Supporting Social Work in Malawi ‘(SSWIM) has been working for the last six years with the Malawi Association of Social Workers and UNICEF to ensure the profession is legally registered and in delivering degree-level social work training to District Social Welfare Officers. There is now a substantial pool of nearly 80 qualified social workers who have been trained.
At the Conference IFSW Vice President Noel Muridzo and representatives from the Zimbabwe National Association of Social Workers contributed their experience of developing their own social work legislation for the regulation of the profession. They shared with their Malawi colleagues the challenges they had faced with Zimbabwe’s Social Workers’ Act. There was a lively discussion over whether to include allied /auxiliary professionals in the Act or to leave them out, but they recommended a more inclusive Act that included these other workers.
Other initiatives include developing a decolonisation agenda and helping develop indigenous social work resources in Malawi, supporting social workers in Malawi to produce writings and resources, especially materials which can then be used by social work students in Malawi.
The Minister handed over the Constitution and Code of Ethics to the Interim Malawi Association President Mr Felix Kakowa and in her remarks urged all social workers to join the Association and support all its programs and activities. She expressed her excitement at being a social worker who is part of the history making social work in Malawi.
While in Lilongwe we visited a street children centre (Tikondane) that in 2018 identified and reached 578 children at risk, and managed to reintegrate 280 children with their families and communities. This was an impressive organisation that clearly does much needed work with a highly vulnerable group of children.
There was also a visit to a rural village in Dowa area with a film crew to record interviews with a young carer, a 16-year old girl who was caring for her three siblings after her parents had passed away, illustrating the difficulties she faced and the help and support provided by the village. This video was later used at a Young Carers’ Festival held in Nairobi. Lectures were also provided to social work classes at Chancellors College in Zomba and Magomero College in Namadzi and meetings held with UNICEF.
Many Social Welfare offices have established Children’s Corners, one of which we visited – community-owned safe spaces for children aged 6 to 18 years which provide Psychosocial Support (PSS), life skills education and empowerment on children’s rights. This is an exciting development that aims to create child rights awareness and empower children to reduce the risks of violence, abuse, exploitation neglect and the impacts of HIV and AIDS.
Overall this was a very useful trip that marked an important milestone in the development of the social work profession in Malawi.
Nigel Hall, Former IFSW Human Rights Commissioner