Faculty Spotlight: Lisa Blitz
Each summer Lisa Blitz, PhD, LCSW-R, associate professor of social work, teaches SW580/HDEV480: Asset-Based Community Development to Promote Social-Emotional Wellbeing for Youth in Malawi, an international service-learning course in Africa. The course connects undergraduate and graduate students with local residents to develop business initiatives for women and serve children and youth in need. In return, the students apply course concepts and develop cultural humility. Below, Lisa shares some of the challenges and impacts of the course.
How did this partnership begin?
I developed the foundation for the course in 2015 during two site visits conducting a community-engaged action research project in partnership with the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM). We interviewed members of the M’bwana, Jamali, and Mwanzama communities, group meetings with the mafumuwa (village chiefs and sub-chiefs), and large community meetings open to all residents. These interviews and discussions focused on how community members and leaders envision the future and what they want in terms of support to achieve their vision. Findings helped structure the academic service-learning projects.
What do the students do when they are in Malawi?
Our project supports the MCM Women’s Community Partnership, a group that came together as a result of the initial research project. The students organize professional and business development workshops that they teach to the women during our on-site visits in the summer. We also provide a range of services to the children and youth at MCM and professional development with the MCM teachers.
How is the community impacted?
We taught the women how to make homemade soap. The product was approved by the Malawi Bureau of Standards. They contracted with an NGO that supplies soap to government-run schools, sell soap in their villages, and are exploring an agreement with two guest lodges to supply their guest rooms.
How are students impacted by the course?
The most fulfilling part of the experience for me is watching the students become global citizens. They start out anxious, excited, unsure of just about everything, and ready for adventure. During their time in Malawi, they come to realize how much we all have in common. As our student Eboniqua said, “Everything felt so familiar; I felt at home.” Amira wrote in a blog, “I am a small fragment in this great big world, whose actions have the ability to affect others halfway around the world.” We see real development in cultural humility and new insights into history. I am confident that the insights and development are real and lasting.
What are some of the challenges you face in teaching this kind of course?
Service-learning requires a great deal of preparation. In addition to the pre-departure academic learning, we need to plan activities with the adults, youth and children and figure out what supplies can be purchased in Malawi and what needs to be brought from the U.S.
The experience is emotionally demanding. The students are exposed to financial and resource poverty beyond what they’ve seen before. They develop genuine caring relationships with MCM staff and the people in the communities so the community living conditions have real impact. Daily reflections on the process are crucial and require faculty to respond to students’ tears, shock and anger. Some students have a hard time saying goodbye, especially to the children, and need support through that process.
What advice would you give to other instructors interested in developing an international service-learning course?
Lisa Blitz will be available at the Nov. 6 CCE workshop to share more about her experience with international service-learning. See below for more information.
Photo captions (top to bottom): 1) Lisa Blitz, associate professor of social work. 2) Students pose with local residents in Malawi. 3) Amira Abdul-Wahhab, a dual-degree master of public administration and social work student, spends time with local children while in Malawi during the summer of 2017. 4) Tom Mastro, a dual-degree master of public administration and student affairs administration student, poses with children he befriended while in Malawi during the summer of 2017.