Social Work Students Help Provide Drinking Water for El Salvador Community
In January, 11 students and two faculty members from the School of Social Work installed an ultraviolet water purification system at Complejo Educativo General Francisco Menendez, a school of 975 students in El Espino, a community in San Pedro Perulapan, El Salvador.
The 10-day visit was part of a two-credit course offered by the School of Social Work.
Alumna Jody Olsen, PhD ’79 MSW ’72, visiting professor and former deputy director of the Peace Corps, says she and others on the trip wanted to better understand the origin and culture of their Salvadoran clients. Olsen says the Baltimore-Washington region has one of the largest concentrations of El Salvador immigrants in the U.S.
In the weeks before the trip, students, led by Katie Januario, raised $850 for the water purification system, including a $600 contribution from Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW. A plaque on the equipment reads “Donated by the University of Maryland School of Social Work.”
The nonprofit organization Clean Water for the World helped deliver the system, Januario says.
By working together, the University students and El Espino residents brought clean drinking water to potentially dozens of families, says Dick Cook, MSW ’72, who went on the trip. Cook is director of the University’s Social Work Community Outreach Service.
“I don’t know what is more exciting,” says Januario, “the amazing community where the water filter was installed, the image of everyone working together to install the filter, or imagining the people actually drinking the clean water.”
Before going to El Salvador, the students completed three class sessions on the country’s history and culture. Also, in collaboration with the Center for Exchange and Solidarity in El Salvador, the students interacted with various community leaders.
“Meeting people who have endured civil war and growing community violence and continue to love despite larger, systemic concerns, is both a humbling experience as a future social worker and dwarfs the perceived enormity of social problems such as poverty and disparities in health care access,” says student Agatha So.
“I have found that the people with the least in this world end up offering you the most,” says Januario, a former Peace Corps volunteer.
Olsen says the School of Social Work will offer the course again in two years and will provide other similar programs for students.
“Any opportunity students can take that puts them in a different cultural environment is very important, particularly for social work students,” says Olsen.