Volume 20 | issue nº 1 Spring 2018

A Passion for Helping Others

By Hanan Nasser

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Merging a passion for helping people with the skills to lift up communities.

Changing the world, one community at a time. LAU’s BA in Social Work and Community Development prepares students to do just that, by assisting families, individuals and groups with social, interpersonal, financial and medical issues that threaten their livelihood or wellbeing.

“Some people feel they have a calling to help people change things for the better,” said visiting Assistant Professor of Social Work Michele Kelly. “That’s how we get a lot of our students.”

One of the oldest such programs in Lebanon, LAU’s Social Work degree places an emphasis on community development. Students have the opportunity to work directly with clients — individuals or larger groups — in need, connect them with social programs, and make sure they get the necessary follow up.

Yet, while there is a great demand for such services across in Lebanon, Kelly says there is a shortage of social workers, possibly because people only have a vague notion of what the profession entails.

But for Petra Rafei Chamaa, it was clear she wanted to pursue this field of study from the start. “I was looking through the majors, and I found that social work would best fit my personality because it involved developing the community and changing it for the better,” she said.

“Since I was child I liked helping people, volunteering. I had a plan to change the world. It is still my plan,” she added.

Students in the program are required to do two semesters of fieldwork during which they work with NGOs or directly with individuals or groups. They also focus on broader-scale aspects of the work, such as welfare policy, international social work, societal movements, and community development. 

Chamaa said that what she likes about social work is its focus on change from within. “You use your skills as a person — literally your humanity and empathy — to work with people, make them feel better and empower them to make decisions that help them,” she said.

She chose Roumieh Prison as the site of her fieldwork because she wanted to understand “why people do what they do.” But above all, Chamaa wanted to understand the needs of the prisoners themselves. “At the end of the day they are still humans with needs, and I’d like to know how I can help them.”  

For Ibrahim Fanous, who is minoring in Social Work, choosing the field was one step toward shifting stereotypes surrounding it.  

“I wanted to do social work from the beginning, but living in an Arab household they would say that social work is only for girls. So I wanted to break that barrier,” he said. His parents eventually accepted his choice because “they saw how passionate I am about it. Ever since I was a kid I loved social work.”

“Social work is about us making a change in the community. It is about knowing yourself as well,” he added.

Fanous has already been accepted for a job with the United Nations after completing a three-month internship. He also plans to pursue a master’s in Social Work in the future.

Fanous is not in an unusual case. “Every single one of our graduating students has gotten a job,” Kelly said.

Social work graduates are regularly employed at hospitals, nursing homes, substance-abuse centers, child-protection offices, mental-health facilities, and private and government agencies. “You will never be bored in your job,” added Kelly. “You are there with other passionate and really committed people. It is a job you can do anywhere in the world.”

As for Chamaa, she has two projects in mind for when she graduates.

“Eventually I want to work with firefighters on their needs after they experience trauma,” said Chamaa, who is a volunteer with the Lebanese Civil Defense. Her other project? She wants to train homeless dogs to become service animals.