Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Social Work, United States of America implement a “Study Abroad Program” for their students, during which they have visited different locations in Croatia for many years, one of which is Petrinja, specifically our Association for promotion of IT, culture and coexistence (Udruga za promicanje informatike, kulture i suživota – IKS).
Over the past 6 years, we have developed an admirable and valuable partnership through which generations of students of Social Work and their professors are able to gain insight into community life and consequences of the Homeland war and subsequent events in our region. Our guests become more familiar with the challenges we face and the type of social services provided in the community by Association IKS, with the aim of improving the quality of life of our many disadvantaged community members.
The Social Work Study Abroad Program, led by Associate Professor Carmen Luca Sugawara, MSW, PhD provides opportunity for Indiana students to explore different contexts, events and cultures and add flavour to their already very admirable choice of study. Many issues faced by communities in America, as we have heard during interactions with students, are not so different in relation to causes and consequences. Indeed, we are in need of an increase in the number of social workers everywhere, but also, in general, humanitarians and volunteers to restore the value of solidarity. Another aspect of these chosen career fields is the level of respect the sector deserves and thus better government policies in relation to the profession.
Through our work at Association IKS, we invest time and effort in developing community programmes, advocating for the profession and policy improvement. We consider ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to develop a valuable partnership with the Indiana University School of Social Work and the contribution of the wonderful representatives who visit us every year is very important for our work and our community services.
For all of the reasons above, we were surprised to hear that we were nominated and successful in winning the “IUPUI 2019 Global Engagement Award”! While reading the nomination letters written by: Tamara S. Davis PhD MSSW Dean and Professor, Joan M. Carlson PhD Associate Professor IUSSW, Leah Ehinger MSW Candidate, IU School of Social Work, we were brought to tears by the sincere and wonderful way in which they described their experiences with IKS and their perspective on our work.
“We enthusiastically nominate the Association for Promotion of IT, Culture and Coexistence (IKS) from Petrinja, Croatia for IUPUI’s 2019 Global Engagement Award. Throughout our six years of working together, IKS has inspired our students, invited us into their community, and shared with us their struggles, commitments, and their dream to rebuild the social fabric of their communities. Their emphasis on youth work and volunteering inspires our students beyond words, while reminding us that each and every one of us has a voice and a responsibility for tomorrow’s future, whether we live in Indiana or in a global community.” (opening extract from the nomination letter of Dean T.S. Davis)
The most amazing part of this story is that the Award also included an extra reward – going to Indianapolis to meet the whole team, a wonderful ceremony with the SSW team and students during which we received our Award, several study visits within Indianapolis and meetings about our ongoing partnership plans. This was an experience of a lifetime! We learned so much during this week, we were looked after so well, and we feel so privileged to have gotten to know people whom we consider our friends.
What does this mean for Petrinja, for our community, the regional Sisak-Moslavina County communities that we work in, the impact Association IKS has on a national and international level?
The Social Work Study Abroad Program led by Associate Professor Carmen Luca Sugawara, MSW, PhD is an extremely valuable program for all involved. We’re so grateful for Carmen, her amazing work and thank her for the opportunity to be included, to share our experience and knowledge. This program enriches our team and in turn our community. We are able to share but also learn from students and professors from Indianapolis and take this opportunity to really dedicate ourselves to this process.
From January 2020 we will be welcoming our first Intern to Association IKS who will be working with us for four months. Jordan, an enthusiastic student of Social Work from IUPUI will be living in Petrinja for these months and learning in a completely different context and culture but also contributing to research and development. We are very excited about this opportunity for both Jordan and IKS and look forward to reporting on her impressions and progress.
These partnerships impact on Association IKS’ organisational development which then impacts directly on the services we provide to our many beneficiaries and their quality of life. We use our experience and knowledge to work on human rights issues, on developing capacities of other non-profit, non-governmental organisations as well as public agencies and institutions which provide social services to various beneficiaries. Our target groups are diverse and include children, youth, the elderly and frail, mentally ill adults, people who are disadvantaged or discriminated, unemployed people, people who can assist us in making positive changes, such as employees of educational and social services institutions, NGO members and employees and many other citizens who cannot find assistance elsewhere. All of our partners in Croatia and internationally assist us in capacity building and improving on our services.
We are very proud of our work to date and very honoured to have received recognition for all that we do from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis through the 2019 Global Engagement Award. It has truly made our year and set high standards for 2020!