Imagine there were only 50 graduate-level social workers in the United States trained to deal with poverty, child abuse, mental illness, domestic violence and the other social ills facing society today.

Thats the case in Vietnam, a country with more than 85 million people, and most of those social workers are older people trained before the Vietnam War.

The Vietnamese government recently made a commitment to increase the number of social service workers in the country by 50,000 in the next 10 years. To make this goal a reality, six universities in Vietnam are working with West Virginia University.

In the first phase of the partnership, graduate students from Vietnamese universities will travel to Morgantown to study social work. In the second phase, Vietnamese universities hope to draft an agreement to offer an approved graduate degree in social work in partnership with the WVU Division of Social Work.

As part of this partnership, WVU students and faculty recently traveled to Vietnam to participate in three teaching workshops over a three-week period. They were joined by social service workers across Vietnam and students from An Giang University. For the first time in the history of the program, through the efforts of James Keim of the Southeast Asia Childrens Project, Cambodian social service workers involved in the fight against human trafficking also attended the workshops.

The following WVU students are chronicling their experiences in Vietnam in a blog: Joey Bailey, Beckley; Andrew Barnes, Fellowsville; Nicholas Blood, Fairmont; Stephen Deci, Morgantown; Victoria Hershfeld, Baltimore; and Nnenna Minimah, Charleston. Fairmont State University student Daniel Crandall of Bridgeport also contributed to the online journal. To visit the blog and learn about the trip, go to

Students in the program learned about the basic principles of social work, gained a window into the world of being a social worker in Vietnam and Cambodia, and faced the challenge of taking Western-based concepts of social work and translating them into effective models for a different cultural environment.

WVU faculty led workshops. Susan Newfield, associate professor in the School of Nursing, presented a practicum on human development and how to manage the behavioral problems of children and adolescents. Chatman Neely, a senior lecturer in the Division of Social Work, led a workshop on domestic violence, child abuse, partner abuse and other forms of human abuse. James Keresztury, associate director for cancer prevention at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center and an adjunct professor in social work, discussed the psycho-social aspects of illness with an emphasis on AIDS . Neal Newfield, associate professor of social work, taught across the three workshops.

In addition to their teaching duties, faculty will meet with representatives of An Giang University and the Vietnamese government to strengthen the partnership between U.S. and Vietnamese social workers.

The basic philosophy of a good travel course it that you give as much as you take from the country,Newfield said.We have much to offer the students of Vietnam and Cambodia, but we have a lot to learn from them as well. For example, they are much better at community organization than we are here in the U.S.

WVU s Division of Social Work in the School of Applied Social Sciences currently has a linkage agreement with An Giang University in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Workshops are also supported by the Pacific Links Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable development through knowledge transfer and exchanges between professionals in Vietnam and the developed world.

For the past three years, the Division of Social Work has offered a summer study abroad program to Vietnam through the Office of International Programs. Contact director Daniel Weiner at for more information about international study abroad at WVU .