‘Kindness prevails’: A view on the efforts of social work educational institutions in South India during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) outbreak had posed a severe public health challenge across the globe, including in India, resulting in a cumulative impact on every foundation of society, including the medical profession and law and order establishment. Health professionals and police continue to provide a visible service to deal with the emergency, but the efforts of many people go unnoticed (Amadasun, 2020). We contend that social work educators can be included in this latter group. In our experience, educational institutions have responded humanely and put student well-being at the center of teaching experience during the dramatic time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted the need for innovative social work interventions to address people's daily psycho-social challenges. Even though Covid-19 affected practically all systems like, psychological, emotional, relational, social and economic lives of individuals, families and communities, around the world in a similar manner, the approaches taken to deal with the ramifications of the pandemic vary from place to place and region to region (Joshi 2021). Schools of social work in South India responded to the pandemic situation in various ways. Rather than focusing on traditional methods of social work intervention, a number of social work institutions sought to develop newer ways to reach the deserving through community participation and technology support while adhering to government guidelines and the Covid-19 Protocol. In this article we aim to explore some of these types of interventions.
As outlined above we endeavoured to explore the role schools of Social Work in South India played in the community during the pandemic. The study used with a qualitative approach where individual schools of social work were considered as units for the study. Through telephone interviews and online semi-structured questionnaires the data was collected from 16 Schools of Social Work spread across Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Pondicherry. The findings have been paraphrased and presented below as a summary.
One of the most significant findings from our research was that Schools of Social Work in Kerala initiated telephone befriending interventions to provide psychosocial support to Covid-affected families. Telephone befriending was a new intervention in the state of Kerala. The Schools of Social Work collaborated with social work practitioners, other professionals and student volunteers. The Schools of Social Work Kerala coordinated befriending interventions through panchayats (village council) and municipalities.
This befriending intervention focused on four specific components;
- proactive engagement,
- crisis intervention,
- brief problem-solving support-oriented therapy and
- assertive linkages (Saju, Scaria, Shaju et al. 2020).
This telephone befriending intervention helped provide social and emotional support and manage psychological and social determinants of vulnerable groups, particularly for young people from low-income families.
Another important finding was that the Schools of Social Work in Kerala initiated national and international conferences related to Covid-19. (Ref: rajagiri.edu ) The conferences aimed to disseminate the knowledge regarding social work practice, research and education during Covid-19. The conferences also addressed responses during Covid-19 and the challenges for sustainable public policies. These conferences have added a significant amount of high-quality material to the social work knowledge bank, which will help to develop future social work practice in times of pandemics.
Another finding found that student social work volunteers in Kerala created and shared various training videos for young people, adolescent and adults, regarding good hygiene practices to avoid contracting Covid-19. The videos also focused on strengthening physical and mental health. Some of the materials focused on integrating physical activity (basic yoga training) to promote health and wellness among children.
Each content of these videos were posted as WhatsApp and Instagram status and shared through WhatsApp groups, which was viewed by more than 10,000 people and had a significant influence on raising awareness in the community about the importance of maintaining physical and mental health to prevent Covid-19.
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry
The Social Work Schools in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry have had a similar approach during the pandemic. These schools provided psychosocial care and support through peer counselling, first aid mental health programs and tele-counselling services. The educators even helped with organizing beds and other medical care facilities for the community. Some of the institutions in these states had opened their premises for isolation ward facilities converting classrooms and canteens for medical use. The reach of the teachers was felt widely with one of the institutions even involved in burying the fatalities from Covid-19.
Most of the institutions have represented themselves in the community through community kitchen services, providing rations and medical essentials, creating awareness drives for vaccinations, educating the rural children who have had no schooling due to the lockdowns imposed by the government. Some of these Schools have conducted stress management sessions for faculty and students to help them accept the online mode of work which has become the new normalcy.
Our findings indicate that social work educators in Southern India have embraced social responsibility and the value of charitable activities in response to the pandemic. The roots of social work were grounded in charity and have since evolved in many countries to include human rights and different welfare approaches. However, our research has shown that these roots and values are very present among the teacher-student fraternity of South India.
Furthermore, the findings indicate the importance of innovation for managing issues of the present but also in preparation for future pandemics. The social work educational institutions of South India with an active student population and social work faculty members have made continuous efforts to reach the maximum infected and affected individuals of the Covid-19 pandemic in need and support them in the best way possible.
Amadasun S. (2021) From coronavirus to ‘hunger virus’: Mapping the urgency of social work response amid COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. International Social Work. 64(3):444-448. doi:10.1177/0020872820959366
Amadasun S. (2020) Social work and COVID-19 pandemic: An action call. International Social Work. 63(6):753-756. doi:10.1177/0020872820959357
Joshi, A. (2021) COVID-19 Pandemic in India: Through Psycho-Social Lens. J. Soc. Econ. Dev. On doi.org
Saju, M.D., Scaria, L & Shaju, K. (2020). A Telephone Befriending Intervention to Address the Psycho-Social Challenges of Vulnerable Population in The Context of COVID-19 Pandemic: An Exploratory Trial in India, REaCH-Resiliency Engagement and Care in Health : 05 October 2020, PREPRINT (Version 1). On doi.org