Friday, 20 February 2009


Our second full afternoon involved a meeting with social workers at one of Cuba's four training school on the outskirts of Havana. The journey to the social work school was memorable because we were all still very much taken by the billboards celebrating 50 years of revolution or calling for 'Victory for Socialism' that dotted the motorway.

The Cuban Social Workers we met represented each of Cuba's regions. I was struck by the relative youthfulness of the Social Workers (turns out the average age of SW'S in Cuba is 24) and surprised, to say the least, that they appeared to be wearing t-shirts advertising what they were! Turns out they are highly visible (and don't have lynch mobs chasing them) within their communities and are also encouraged to return to where they grew up once they have completed their training. We exchanged stories about how Social Work was often scapegoated by the media and government in Scotland and how communities, or sections within communities, often regard Social Workers as 'the enemy'. Hence why a social work 'uniform' wouldn't necessarily be popular amongst Scottish social workers.

Cuba's dedicated Social Work Service is only 9 years old, hence the young average ages of S.w's. Functions carried out by social workers now, were previously carried out by the Federation of Cuban Women.Currently there are 42,000 Social Workers in Cuba who describe themselves officially as 'Doctors of the Soul'! They make a moral commitment to work as social workers for ten years (this isn't compulsory though !). It did sound a bit evangelical to me but I don't live in a society that operates a form of socialism and therefore shapes individuals and motivations differently.

The biggest undertaking they have achieved is the weighing and measuring of all children under 16. This was done in the earlier part of the decade and gave a comprehensive overview of the health of the nation's young people. This undertaking was partly as a result of the 'Special period' in the 90's, a period of severe shortages, rationing and subsequent health problems due to the collapse of the Soviet block and thus an 85% drop in foreign trade.

Three Golden Rules are applied to social work in Cuba 1) Be friends with everone in your community 2)Never work with statistics, know people's names 3) Never wait to be asked for help, seems reasonable to me I thought. They have seperated some of the more difficult tasks that Social Workers are often directly involved in e.g. involvement in taking children into care, thus allowing them to retain, in their words, a friendlier and more trustful relationship within their communities. A combination of time, magnified as everything was in translation, and lack of understanding about their System prevented questions being asked that scratched beneath the surface though, questions such as 'who makes these difficult decisions?

The meeting was enjoyable and boded well for the rest of the trip as the people we met seemed open, friendly and ready for a bandolier of questions in English. I was too shy to ask for a social work t-shirt as we'd only really just arrived and were unsure of the protocol, if the meeting had been at the end of the trip then I would have definately begged, borrowed or stolen one to wear to work.

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