In the early morning, Laura Lewis and her colleagues from the UB
School of Social Work traveled to and from a research site in
Mumbai by rickshaw.
On other days, the long commute by air or taxi would lead them
to Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Indian states where children’s
shelters and schools are in development.
“In India, high numbers of children perish before their
first birthday, and at least 40 million children work as child
laborers without access to schooling,” says Lewis, director
of field education and co-director of the Institute for Sustainable
Global Engagement. “Thousands of children are bought,
kidnapped or trafficked, and face exploitation in many other
For 10 days in late September, the group — which included
Filomena Critelli, associate professor and co-director of the
Institute for Sustainable Global Engagement, and Shraddha Prabhu, a
doctoral candidate at the School of Social Work — worked with
local Indian organizations that are advancing child rights through
innovative programs and legal activism.
Group members told the story of their work in India this week as
part of a UB’s International Education Week presentation,
“Children’s Rights in India: A View from the
The group’s focus was on analyzing and discussing the
range of diversity in India and the United States, as well as
inequalities based on race, ethnicity, class, caste, religion,
gender, sexual orientation and physical challenges. Additionally,
they looked at the practices of social work and their
Social work organizations in India use a “rights-based
approach” around child protection and child welfare, focusing
on “the dignity of the individual, their right to have basic
needs met,” says Lewis. She believes the ideological shift
from the U.S. “service” or “charity” focus
fits well with the trauma-informed human rights curriculum of the
UB School of Social Work.
Lewis and her colleagues partnered with Prerana, an
anti-trafficking organization that works directly in six villages
in South Delhi. The focus of the partnership was to explore the
possibility of facilitating an exchange of skills, knowledge and
resources to benefit students and educators.
At Prerana’s Naunihal Children’s Home for Girls at
Kharghar and at the Falkland Road Night Care Centre, the
collaborators took advice from older beneficiaries and discussed
techniques social workers should use in combatting issues young
women face in India.
Specifically, the researchers discussed how to guide children
through school enrollment and choosing a career path by acting as a
parent, as well as a friend, and by ensuring a healthy,
constructive, nonjudgmental communication pattern.
Additionally, the group worked with Amrita University, which has
collaborated with UB in similar efforts since 2009.
Lewis believes the trips in the field lead to global cooperation
as social workers instantly connect through a passion for
combatting social injustice and human rights violations. Within
minutes, acquaintances can begin rich discussions of the issues,
UB and Amrita University are working on a joint grant proposal
to the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, a program
that aims to further cooperation between American and Indian
institutions of higher education through faculty exchanges in
fields like food security, climate change, sustainable energy and
This is the fourth time Lewis and her colleagues have traveled
to India to work with counterparts in the country. Lewis believes
exchanges like this could lead to field placements for her graduate
students, in addition to increasing research collaborations and the
exchange of curriculum materials.
In addition to India, the School of Social Work has
collaborations with social work programs in Thailand, Tanzania,
Macedonia and South Korea. For more information, visit the School of Social Work