Four Bachelor of Social Work students hailing from Canada, South Africa, Germany and New Zealand all graduated on Friday with First Class Honours. The graduates each have very personal reasons for wanting to become social workers and thereby helping to effect positive change in the lives of others.
Yasmin Awan, originally from Canada, was inspired to choose social work after experiencing the benefits of a women’s empowerment course. “While it definitely boosted my self-esteem, the best thing about the course was seeing all the other women stand taller, hold their heads higher and find their voices again,” she says. “Personal life experience fuelled the fire within me to try to effect some change, and becoming a social worker has helped me do that.”
South African born Sue Hancock was also moved through personal life experience. “While living in South Africa, I met many people who were living in poverty, with trauma and abuse, and suffering the effects of social and economic marginalisation,” she says. “I tried to provide support in a volunteer capacity, however, when I emigrated to New Zealand I knew I wanted an occupation that would allow me to make a more sustained difference.”
Jasmin Mueller knew from a very young age that she wanted to make a positive contribution to society. “When I moved to New Zealand from Germany, this conviction was strengthened as I found myself adjusting to a new life in a new environment, and this provided me with an insight into how children who are removed from their usual environment and placed in another must feel.”
New Zealander Darinee Turnwald took the lessons she learned from her troubled teenage years and decided to make significant changes in her own life. “I realised I wanted to be a social worker while practising Nichiren Buddhism, with its fundamental philosophy of promoting equality and the inherent potential of each individual person,” she says. At 18, Darinee was advised to get some life experience first, and it wasn’t until 30 years later that she realised her dream.
The three mature students in the group, Darinee, Sue and Yasmin, were unsure of what to expect when they turned up for their first lecture four years ago. However, they were all pleasantly surprised with the “whanau-like” environment in Tauranga, the smaller class sizes, the mix of ages amongst the students, and the amount of expert support offered by staff.
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences Senior Lecturer Sonya Hunt says that the Honours programme, which celebrates 10 years this year, has gone from strength to strength. “Our degree is recognised by the Social Workers Registration Board, meeting the qualification criteria in order for our graduates to be provisionally registered social workers upon graduation,” she says.
The quality reputation of the Tauranga-based programme is clearly upheld by the fact that all four graduates have secured jobs in their preferred areas. Yasmin is working with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Sue is an addiction case manager and clinician with a local NGO, Jasmin is employed in foster care and Darinee is a community social worker at the Waihi Community Resource Centre.
The passion and commitment that the graduates demonstrate for their chosen career path does not surprise Ms Hunt. “Our social work graduates all certainly have a passion for the work, heart for people, ability to empathise as well as think critically, and professionalism in their approach.”