Advocacy organization staff educate social work majors on refugee work

Written by: 
Malia Diaz
Social Work Symposium

Representatives from organizations like the Susannah Wesley Community Center, Catholic Charities Hawai’i, and the LDS Social Services and other services provided students and community members with information on refugee services as well as handouts and ways to get involved at the Social Work Symposium on Thursday, March 16. The Inter-Agency Council for Immigrant and Refugee Services, an advocacy group and educational sector for the public on the needs of immigrants, sponsored the event to promote fair treatment of immigrants and refugees in the state of Hawaii.

For the first hour of the symposium, event sponsor tables were set up around the Aloha Center Ballroom to allow social work students to network, engage, and connect with local and global organizations focused on helping refugees.

Rachelle Keaton opened the symposium by reviewing the present global refugee crisis, and ways the United States could improve its approach to lending a helping hand to those involved with the tragedy. She quoted previous French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement made to the USA in 2007, "From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia, but were rather the most realistic policy there is."

We Are Oceania, one of the organizations present, is a referral center of the IAC, catering to Pacific Islanders entering the U.S. One of its delegate speakers, Josie Howard, said many islanders are discriminated and victimized. “Our goal is to refer them to different services, help them discover careers, and be ready to enter and fit in with the local community,” said Howard.

Melissa Sarahina, from the Department of Health, said public health nurses have a role in the advocacy for refugees. Sarahina said, “We provide care to those who are most vulnerable. We want to work towards more health education to immigrants and refugees so it’s not too late when they need healthcare. There needs to be more love in this field. We should not look at people as figures or money, but see them as human beings.”

The symposium concluded with some of the officials offering a challenge to help transition and welcome those who need help. Dr. Kenneth Galea’I, BYUH’s social work faculty representative, said, “We should welcome people coming to a new home. This isn’t new information, we have heard it before, but it can be so polarizing to strangers not to be greeted and welcomed.”

Sinamoni Valikoula Funaki, a sophomore in social work from Tonga, said she experienced struggles when she came to study at BYUH. “A lot of immigrants are discriminated because they are from another place or they don’t know enough English. I want to help my Tongan people who immigrated here and help them with all their struggles.

“This event has helped me look forward to what I can do with my future career.”

Funaki said many of her friends back in Tonga and in other countries feel insecure and unwelcome in the U.S. because of recent changes in the government. “So many immigrants end up working construction or under the table jobs when they could be putting their education to use. It is so difficult for them to make money because many of them need a work permit to have the jobs they want and they’re scared.”

Lizzy Leavitt, a junior social work major from Utah, said it was so great to learn how she can apply what she has learned in all her major classes. “It sounds too intimidating, but today I’ve seen that it is all about making connections. It was an actual opportunity to talk to real people in this career in the community and see the demand for future social workers.” Leavitt said the symposium reaffirmed her desire to work with refugees “no matter what the situation in the world is.”

Grace Fakahaua, a senior in social work from Tonga, said, “I realized today, listening to the speakers, that there are so many services available to immigrants and refugees. The sources are there, but people don’t know or they don’t have access to them. We should create ways to make these resources known to small villages and towns [to] let them know that there are people here for them. The organizations represented today at the event can give immigrants a voice because they have the power to make changes.”

Date Published: 
Monday, April 10, 2017
Last Edited: 
Monday, April 10, 2017

NOTE: This story's publication was delayed due its possible inclusion in the April 2017 magazine. It was eventually removed from consideration.