Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Design and creativity applied to social work in Myanmar

By Mariana Palavra

Mawlamyine, Mon State- After 29 years performing an administrative job for the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), 49 year-old Daw Saw Ohn Mar was sent from Hpa-Ann, Kayin State, to Mawlamyine, Mon State, to become a social worker. Soon after, she was called at 8 pm to take care of a 14 year-old girl who had run away and was wandering around lost at a bus station.

Case Manager Daw Saw Ohr Mar traveling to visit a child in Mon State. Photo: Point B
“For almost 30 years, I hadn’t had contact with NGOs, just administrative work”, she reveals. “With this new job, there are many things to learn. At this age, I’m gaining a completely new experience and constantly learning. It has been a fascinating eye opener”.
Daw Saw Ohn Mar is one of the two DSW social workers in Mawlamyine. The other one is 48 year-old Daw Win Bo, who had also spent more than 22 years behind a desk at DSW Malawmyine office until last year.

“At the beginning, I didn’t have any special feelings about being a social worker. But soon, I realised that I like dealing and interacting with children. That’s the best part of this job”, Daw Win Bo says. Even if it can require renting a vehicle for a 5 hour ride or walking through muddy paths under heavy rain, the difficulties are worthwhile. “Since I am a mother of three children, I feel this is an important role because I have this feeling and obligation to care and protect every child”. In fact, she has just followed up a case of a 15 year-old girl who got pregnant after being raped by one of the men she was working for as a domestic servant. Daw Win Bo is making sure the new-born baby is being properly taken care of, and that the adolescent mother gets the necessary psychosocial support and legal assistance to prosecute the perpetrator.     

Creative training 

For the first time in Myanmar, DSW social workers have been deployed using a case management approach on the ground. UNICEF is supporting this effort to ensure that the reach of these social workers is effective and is linked with other departments, ministries and NGOs working on child protection.

“The challenges that these newly deployed case managers are facing are immense”, affirms Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF Myanmar chief of child protection. “They are pioneering an essential service, which will require personal qualities of initiative, empathy and integrity to serve the best interests of children.” 

Since January 2016, UNICEF and the NGO Point B Design + Training, with Australian financial support, have been working together in the Southeast, using a design thinking approach to evolve a DSW social work case management system for children. 

“Design-thinking (or human-centred design) is a creative approach to solve social issues and challenges that focuses on shifting mind-sets towards optimism, empathy, collaboration and experimentation to create new solutions that support local case management services”, explains Rochelle Ardesher, co-founder of Point B. “These methods have been successfully used to empower local populations around the globe with tools and processes for co-creating solutions to social challenges.”

Daw Win Bo practicing Empathy with other Case Manager from the Southeast. Photo: Point B
Point B has brought design and creativity into the development programme to build the capacity of the 13 case managers from five townships from three states and region from the Southeast. Throughout these last nine months, the organisation facilitated workshops in each one of those DSW offices, involving case managers and other staff, as well as training sessions where all 13 case managers in the Southeast came together to share experiences and knowledge. Point B trainers have been following up with each one of the case managers at their duty station, organising assessment sessions, discussing lessons learned, including technical support from the UNICEF child protection team.

“Point B methods made us understand together and in a creative way what the case workers’ role is”, Daw Saw Ohn Mar recalls. “It’s so different from our past routine. Games and activities, like the circle of the rope, show us how team work is important and how we cannot do anything without each other”.

The social worker gives also the example of a mapping tool developed by the 13 DSW staff to support human-centred delivery of cases. The tool allows social workers to track different parts within a specific case, including the emotions of a child.

New Beginning

Early results from these activities have already shown significant progress. “Social workers were motivated, but not necessarily empowered. Design-thinking tools help people reframe who they are, how they want to work in a visual way”, reveals Rochelle Ardesher. “Now, social workers have a greater sense of what this jobs entails. They are using tools which they have created to facilitate systems-building at the local level. They feel more confident to go to the community, to discuss different problems and increase the collaboration with partners, which reflects positively on the progress of the children’s cases they are managing”.

In the near future, Point B, with UNICEF support, will expand their creative-problem solving methods to Mandalay to train other DSW social workers deployed to central and upper Myanmar. At the same time, the NGO will continue to support the Southeast with follow-up training and progressively hand over the capacity building to DSW hands. 

In the field, the Southeast social workers are more confident than ever. “I feel I can more easily manage complicated cases after this learning process”, Daw Win Bo assures. “I cannot promise to always know how to apply the best solutions, but I will give the best I can to find them and solve every case."

Likewise, Daw Saw Ohn Mar sees the positive changes: “I feel I have an important role. I can use my life experience to help children in a really effective way”. And she does. Almost every night, before falling asleep, Daw Saw Ohn Mar still thinks about the 14 year-old girl who ran away from the house she was forced to work in. But the social worker thinks about it with a big smile on her face. After all, she immediately found a provisional shelter for the girl and soon after managed to reunite her with the mother, who now lives in Yangon and committed to taking good care of her child and not sending her away to work as a domestic servant again.   

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