Social work students celebrate the beauty of community

Annual World Social Work Day event focuses on nature, wellbeing

More than 50 qualified and trainee social workers spent a day immersed in the beauty of nature and in the concept of community last week to celebrate World Social Work Day.

The annual event acknowledges the immense contribution of social workers, with students from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Master of Social Work (Qualifying) taking part in a workshop on Friday (22 March) at Dapto Community Farm.

It was a particularly apt way for the students to mark the occasion, with the theme of this year’s World Social Work Day, on Tuesday 19 March, ‘Buen Vivir: Shared Future for Transformative Change’ emphasising the need for social workers to adopt innovative, community-led approaches that are grounded in Indigenous wisdom and harmonious co-existence with nature.

More than 40 students were joined at the workshop by UOW academics, seven social workers from Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, led by Rebekah Reurich, Social Work Educator, and leaders and farmers from Dapto Community Farm.

Rugare Mugumbate speaks to the audience of social workers at Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Paul Jones

Dr Rugare Mugumbate speaks to the group at Dapto Community Farm.

Dr Rugare Mugumbate, Lecturer in the School of Health and Society, said the event emphasised the importance of community to the field of social work.

“Dapto Community Farm has gardens for several people from different backgrounds. It is a multicultural place where people farm, create friendships, and strengthen their community, all while being absorbed in nature,” Dr Mugumbate, an expert in social work as it intersects with health, disability, and migration.

A group of social work students in the garden at Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Paul Jones

“Our social work students learn community building skills from the farm, and they in turn provide their ideas about how community mobilisation and engagement can be achieved. The day really shows that there is no university without community.”

During the workshop, the students were given a history of the Dapto Community Farm by Merete Donnelly and Frank Marzano, the respective Secretary and President of the farm, and a tour of the seven-acre plot, which has evolved over the years from a flower farm and commercial nursery into a thriving garden for all. They heard from and spoke with their colleagues about the importance of social work in recognition of World Social Work Day.

Social workers in the garden at Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Paul Jones

UOW PhD research student Cornelius Dudzai, whose research looks at community-led indigenous environmental social work, shared with the group the philosophy of Ubuntu, an African worldview about humanity, community, the relationship with the environment and justice. He also shared about the role of social workers in community-led environmental social work.

Dr Mugumbate talked about Buen Vivir, an indigenous worldview from South America, which is about the bond that exists between humanity and nature. He also led a group discussion about cultivating wellbeing and community engagement at Dapto Community Farm. Suggestions were for the community to be more involved at the farm, and for the farm to be more involved with the community. It was also suggested that the University could undertake more programs that involve the farm, including inviting members of the farm as guest lecturers in relevant subjects.

The group of social workers and academics at Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Paul Jones

With a strong commitment to social justice and human rights, social workers are fundamental to wellbeing and improvement of society. Social workers can be found working with people who are disadvantaged and marginalised by society because of poverty or personal circumstances, supporting people in times of crisis, and helping to connect people with vital social and support services.

Joachim Mumba, President of the International Foundation of Social Work, said this year’s theme provided a bridge between community and nature.

“Buen Vivir resonates deeply with the core values of social work. As we celebrate World Social Work Day, let’s embrace this principle and champion a future where communities and nature coexist in harmony a future where social workers will, together with local people co-design and co-build peaceful communities critical to our shared sustainable futures.”

Rugare Mugumbate with a group of social work students in the garden at Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Paul Jones

World Social Work Day, which was first held in 2007, is a celebration that aims to highlight the achievements of social work, to raise the visibility of social services for the future of societies, and to defend social justice and human rights.