From March 2-13, a group of eleven Marywood University graduate social work students traveled to India to work with several social services agencies in different parts of the country and become acquainted with Indian culture. The students were accompanied by India native Dr. Packiaraj Arumughan, Assistant Professor of Social Work in the Master of Social Work program, and by Dr. Lloyd Lyter, Director of the School of Social Work and Administrative Studies. This is the second annual trip that Dr. Arumughan has organized. He hopes that through this trip his graduate students have gained first-hand knowledge of Indian culture and a better understanding of working with non-profit social work agencies in India.
The students travelled with Dr. Packiaraj and Dr. Lyter to five different cities including: Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Trichy, Agra, and they paid a special visit to the Taj Mahal.
Their first stop included a visit to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), a premier institute as both a hospital and University. The students and professors were able to work with social work specialists treating children, inpatient substance abuse, and individuals suffering with mental disabilities. The students spent two days at the institute, which is located in the city of Bangalore, a densely-populated interior city.
For the remainder of the trip, the social work graduate students were able to work with Indian children at several universities and agencies, including the Madras School of Social Work in Chennai. The students and faculty also had the opportunity to visit with World Vision National, a social work organization through which women afflicted with HIV/AIDS, who are also learning to become literate, are able to share their stories through support groups. On International Women's Day, the group was invited to listen to stories from a select group of women. Additional trips were taken to Bharathidasan University in Trichy and the Society for Empowerment, Village Action, and Improvement (SEVAI) in Chennai.
Most notable was a visit to Hope for the Hopeless, a non-profit orphanage founded by Dr. Packiaraj and his partner, Mr. G. Paulraj, in the professor's hometown, Trichy. The orphanage houses boys of all ages, and the group was able to interact with boys between the ages of 8-12. Both the graduate students and the young boys interacted through Indian and United States cultural presentations and socialization time. Master of Social Work candidate Megan Dickman recalls that this was her favorite stop, along with her classmates, despite the language barrier.
"It was a fun time interacting with them, and it was great to just be silly with the children. Even if you cannot communicate verbally, everyone can communicate non-verbally with smiles and laughter," she said.
The Marywood Social Work group also found time to enjoy Indian culture by visiting St. Thomas Basilica. The group was able to see the tomb, shrine, and relics of Thomas the Apostle in Chennai. They also had the opportunity to visit the Bahai Temple in Delhi. The temple is non-denominational and Indian people from all different religions are invited to pray and meditate in this space. The students also found time to pay a visit to Marina Beach, the longest beach in Asia, on the Indian Ocean in Chennai.
"It was great to see how a culture can live so differently on one level, but how there are so many similarities," said Megan Dickman. "When you are there, it is easy to spot the similarities of both of our cultures, in the social work world, and between our values as humans."
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