Social work students’ life-changing experience of Samoa

Author: Bruce Andrews
Publication Date: Friday, 4 Dec 2015

Samoa 2015 social work tour1A study tour to Samoa has given two Charles Sturt University (CSU) students a life-changing insight into the opportunities and challenges of working in a developing country.

Social work students Ms Jody Denny and Mr James Smith, who are both residents of Port Macquarie, were among 12 CSU students who worked in prisons, schools and a range of human service agencies during a recent tour of the small Pacific island nation.

CSU social work and human services lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in Port Macquarie Mr Garth Norris (pictured, left, with student James Smith) led the group with his colleague Dr Karen Bell from CSU in Wagga Wagga.

Ms Denny (pictured top left with other CSU students), who completed her Bachelor of Social Work just prior to leaving for the trip, said she valued the opportunity to work in fields where she had a particular interest, including mental health, domestic violence, and child protection, in a different cultural context.

"It was a life-changing experience shared with an amazing group of social workers," Ms Denny said.

Samoa 2015 social work tour2"The highlight for me was our visit to the Samoa Victims Support Group. Listening to a group of school girls, most of whom have experienced traumas we can't imagine, sing of grace and lighting up the world, was magical. Their hope for the future was inspiring. They shone."

Mr Smith, who has an interest in juvenile justice, said the opportunity to interview inmates at Samoa's juvenile prison was another highlight of the trip.

"The prison authorities had asked us to spend some time with the inmates to gain an understanding of their interests, their skills, talents and goals, with a view to designing programs to support their personal development," Mr Smith said.

"As with all of the work we did in Samoa, this presented a major challenge, given the need to understand the cultural context for what was happening and the experiences of the inmates.

"Nevertheless, we were able to establish some great connections with the inmates by listening to their own unique stories, and this gave us the opportunity to provide feedback which was valued by the local prison authorities.

"It was particularly interesting to see the strong cultural influence of the traditional village leadership structures on the criminal justice system, and the parallels to Indigenous initiatives within the Australian system, such as circle sentencing."

Samoa 2015 social work tour4Mr Norris said although CSU's social work program had been taking students on CSU Global international study tours for several years, this was the first time a group had travelled to Samoa.

"Overall, it was an unforgettable trip for the students and staff, combining a very diverse professional program with the opportunity to experience Samoan culture and explore some of the country's stunning natural features," Mr Norris said. "Having now established some wonderful relationships with a range of Samoan agencies and service providers, we hope to develop more of these opportunities in future."


Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084

Media Note:

Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews.

In the top photo, Garth Norris (left) and James Smith enjoy a 'niu' (coconut water) at the Fugalei Market in the Samoan capital, Apia.

In the middle photo, Jody Denny (top left) is joined at a farewell dinner in Samoa by fellow CSU students Lauren Jeffrey (left), Alix Weidner and Imogen Morrissey, as well as Projects Abroad Samoan director Katy Woolley.

In the bottom photo, CSU staff and students join locals after a zumba class they held for the stall holders and children at Fugalei Market in Apia.