Volume 29 - Number 9 - Thursday, January 30, 1997

First school of social work in Jordan

Susan Mintzberg

Following two years of work and eleven trips to the Middle East, Professor Jim Torczyner from McGill's School of Social Work announced last week that a $120,000 grant from the Canadian International Development Agency will allow for step one in the creation of the first school of social work in Jordan.

Torczyner, founder and director of the McGill-based Montreal Consortium for Human Rights Advocacy Training (MCHRAT), has worked with Dr. Mohammed Maqusi, former Vice-President of the University of Jordan, in setting up this joint project between the two universities.

The agreement was officially signed by Chancellor Gretta Chambers and Maqusi at a January 20th press conference at McGill. Sheila Finestone attended as the representative for the Government of Canada.

"Creating the first school of social work in a country is a tool for social change. It has enormous repercussions," says Torczyner. Maqusi, presently a visiting professor at Texas Tech, agrees. "You create peace in a region by first creating peace within the individual, within the family, within the community." To achieve this, he explains, "You must allow the individual to feel secure within their society and to believe that there are dividends to the peace development reflected in economic prosperity." This requires using social work, not only to help the poor, but also to help the rich be aware of the situation of the poor, thus creating "a mesh where rich and poor live in the society in harmony. Down the road we hope that this program will feed into this both directly and indirectly."

It was a letter sent by Principal Shapiro to the president of the University of Jordan which first introduced Torczyner's idea. The numerous trips and the many meetings which followed, both in Canada and Jordan, eventually resulted in a visit by Chambers to the Middle East last May to discuss the project with Maqusi.

One of the reasons for the appeal of the project is Torczyner's determination to deal with "the real needs of Jordanians." This means not only tackling the effects of the dramatic economic decline brought on by the consequences of the Gulf War, but also taking into account such changes as the role of women within the society.

The first step in implementing the project is a fellowship which will enable several academics from the University of Jordan to study Canadian models of social work education at McGill while receiving graduate certification. "They will then decide and bring back what is applicable to Islamic context and to Jordanian society," says Torczyner.

Meanwhile, committees from both universities will work in parallel to develop a structured program for the school of social work at the University of Jordan. It is hoped that the first students will begin courses in the fall of 1998.

Further funds would subsequently allow for a visiting scholar program to bring senior people in alternate years from the University of Jordan to McGill and vice versa, to encourage reciprocal learning and favour the continuous exchange of new information.

Originally hoping to include Israel in this project, Torczyner felt that its involvement could help further the peace process with Jordan. It soon became apparent that he was trying to move too fast and that these two nations were not yet ready for such ties. He plans to work on a parallel project with Israel, which would enable him to bring academics to McGill from both countries at once.

Although there is much work to be done before the University of Jordan graduates its first social workers, Torczyner is confident that he will have McGill's backing all the way. "I've been here for 23 years. And the reason I am still here is because there is an atmosphere in the University which encourages people like myself to try and practise principles which are going to improve the human condition."

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