Social Work is a very new profession in Nepal. The Nepal School of Social Work is also new and offers a BA in Social Work – another a new concept here.
The school is situated on the fringe of Kathmandu city; it is neighbours with hospital, housing, many schools, girls’ and boys’ homes (akin to orphanages), and a slum. The building is humble. It is tall like most buildings here, and has a huge roof top space overlooking the local environment. There is a small kitchen on the roof – out of which comes the most delicious food and tea! Inside, the classrooms border on austere – there are no computers or any technology, there are chairs with attached writing tables and a podium. Lighting is dim because of load shedding, and this also affects the availability of water that cannot be pumped up the five flights without power.
Material resources are few but the school has wonderful staff and an open-hearted attitude to incorporating people and ideas from around the world. We were introduced to the school through the COPING and RESILIENCE conference we attended and presented at last year.
We offered some art and drama workshops to the school, who decided that the best use of this offer would be through us providing professional development training for their teaching staff. They are keen to learn new techniques in delivery their work to students as well as the community.
We worked together for three days with the aim of helping them incorporate the arts to enhance and empower communities. We know from our discussions with the staff that the family and community in Nepal are changing quickly and significantly. For example, the city is huge and growing as people come here from the rural areas looking for work. They leave behind tight knit communities, and confront the consequences as well as the many problems of an urban society – such as little family support for child-care, loneliness, marriage breakdowns, addiction issues, and unemployment. Additionally people confront the daily burdens of living in a city that lacks basic infrastructure, in a country that is one of the poorest in the world.
There is no doubt that social work has a huge contribution to make here.
We threw the teachers in at the deep end as we had so little time with them! and the were more than happy to come along on this creative journey. We began with a group drawing and painting project mapping their local area, which mirrored the project we ran with the street children. We introduced our regular theme of working with a restricted palette to ensure the outcome would be pleasing and thus encourage participants’ further engagement with the visual arts. Teachers found this very useful as it complemented their own practice of social mapping and gave them some new skills and an imaginative way of involving the community – especially with those who struggle with verbal expression and literacy. They were very pleased with the outcome.
The project led to a dynamic discussion on creativity and art therapy, on interpreting art made by participants, and use and choice of colour for therapeutic outcomes. As the role of creativity in healing and recovery has underpinned Anne’s PhD and our work over the last 20 years, the discussion was concerned with recognising art as a crucial element of the human character. We considered the pitfalls in over-simplifying and interpreting individual’s choices of colour and using artwork as reflection of emotional wellbeing. Artists in Community work to develop a creative language through which individuals and communities can express themselves fluently – which is why we focus on skill development and exposing our participants to a broad range of artworks, artists and practices.
Alex used drama games to draw the group together – this proved to be very difficult for this cohort of teachers who are very used to working with many distractions. We encouraged them to turn off their phones and set this time aside from the demands of the college and private lives. Teachers discovered through these exercises that by putting a boundary around a space, a group had greater chance to develop.
Teachers found the clowning hugely enjoyable. We worked with them to create small skits reflecting some of the issues that affect the local community. They learned many techniques in these activities that they found they could apply to more effectively deliver social and health messages as well as their social work services.
The workshops included many points for discussion, including using visual imagery and comedy to engage communities and social work students. They also challenged some ingrained practices, and inspired new ways of approaching the teaching and practice of social work.
We will continue working with the school in the next week in a hands-on project with the nearby slum communities.