Department of Social Services (DSS) under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of Bangladesh is the nerve centre for programming, organizing, staffing, training, coordinating, budgeting, monitoring, supervising, social auditing and over all research and evaluation in respect of social service programmes' implementation all over the country. Reportedly, there are as many as 45 types of programme-activities broadly grouped into two. Since its (the then Directorate of Social Welfare: presently Department of Social Services) establishment in 1961, it has long history at the pre-stage that necessitates an orientation to the working personnel at all levels. Before initiation of the said history, we need to know that at present there is human power strength to the extent exceeding 12,000 personnel to address at least ten diversified programme services under a bureaucratic hierarchical administrative set-up. The sections of people being served are narrated as the by-passed, disadvantaged, jobless, landless, helpless medical patients, orphans, destitute, vagrants, including socially excluded groups, physically and intellectually disabled, victims of burn or family violence, criminally victim cases and the cases of psycho-socio-pathological like delinquents. As the literature guides us to understand, the DSS basically follows certain strategies of accelerated poverty reduction through project management, human resource development by means of occupational skill development training, welfare activities, etc. in view of the PRSP Roadmap of the Government and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Formal social welfare services in the country started with the UCD project activities; and this is the oldest service programme of the DSS. The very nomenclature itself signifies that, this is a community based social work service. It may relevantly be mentioned that at the onset the social welfare activities were attached with the Ministry of Local Government. Historically, during partition of Greater India in 1947 and with the emergence of Pakistan as an independent nation with its most distantly separated two wings (was so said): East Pakistan, now Bangladesh liberated through war and West Pakistan, now Pakistan collectively as one part as one nation and India as another. During this partition repatriation problem of refugees from divided India caused a serious problem of habitation or resettlement in the urban areas. Notably, huge influx of refugees came to pour in city areas, preferably in the capital Dhaka. It was added complex problem of social re-integration to the existing problems of habitation, joblessness, health and sanitation and overall social reorganization in a complex cultural-cum linguistic diversities. Planners and social thinkers were concerned with resultant proliferation of lawlessness, dependency, etc and their impact on socio-economic development. They could have foreseen at the right time to re-organize urban community on the basis certain values and principles through acculturation, adaptation and adjustment processes.
In this socio-economic and cultural backdrop, the then Government in 1952 requested the UN to technically assist the country. The UN well responded to this call and took up a Technical Assistance Project in the Social service sector. The UN experts Lucky and Mr Dumpson at the first stage arrived the same year and hurriedly conducted a survey work on the situation. They at the initial phase recommended a three-month job training programme in order to prepare human-power to effectively manage the situation. Immediately after, another two UN experts namely Dr Shawky and Miss Anama Toll organized a training programme with three officers and three assistants at Bardwan House (Bangla Academy) in May, 1955. After this training programme, a six-month training course was introduced to expand the number of professional social workers in the country. Under the guidance of the UN experts, a programme implementation authority titled as 'Urban Community Development Board' was constituted to formulate policies and programmes from time to time along with monitoring and supervision. Meanwhile, in 1953 the first 'Urban Community Development Project' as pilot scheme was started at Kayettuli area in the old part of Dhaka. Thereafter, in 1957 the second project was initiated in Gopibag area which was relatively an advanced society. The third UCD project began in Mohammadpur area in 1958 where there were larger concentrations of non-Bengali disadvantaged refugees. It may notably be mentioned that in 1956 a council, named 'National Council of Social Welfare' a greater and regular body for policy formulation and monitor and supervise UCD project activities and other allied social welfare programs was formed by the Government. As per the experts' recommendation a regular curricula based social welfare institution named 'College of Social Welfare and Research Centre' under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Welfare was established in 1958 as a constituent institution of the Dhaka University for giving professional diploma/master's degrees in social welfare to produce social workers on an international standard. It started first with nine-month training to fill up the positions of UCD Organizer. Thereafter, a two-year master's course was introduced, and the successful candidates were awarded with MA degree in social welfare.
The college without making delay got its membership and affiliation with the International Association of Schools of Social Work (membership is still alive and yearly renewed on regular basis in order to keep up the professional status of the graduates). It is important to note that the course was also started under the University of Rajshahi in 1964 to further extend professional education on social work for grooming personnel as social work practitioner. More developments took place for genuine reason in the discipline; honours courses have been opened and along the honours and masters degree, M Phil and PhD courses have been introduced in at least three universities including the National University.
To add to further developments the College of Social Welfare and Research Centre has been merged with the University of Dhaka as the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (ISWR) in 1974 under the Eighth Statute.
It is gratifying to note that Bangladesh Council for Social Work Education (BCSWE) in order to network with similar organizations to keep proper pace with the changes and advancements so far gained in the advanced parts of the world. In the present stage of globalized world continuous networking and updating are obvious for the development of social work discipline and its application strategies. It is also obvious that there are differences in functional as well as structural aspects of societies which usually cause vacuum for people to adequately adapt in their own environment. Therefore, over the globe there is no such panacea which could be useful equally. Hence, the need for indigenization and contextualization of social work ideas and thoughts cannot be ignored; for every society it is a common necessity. This thinking does help create added new literature in reference to one's own situation; it may come through either practising wisdom or field research activities. BCSWE is an organization to address all these issues in addition to those needs as said above. Members of BCSWE are invited to attend international seminar/workshop by contributing new and additional knowledge or problems as are cropped up in demonstrational social work practice in which as a part of the curriculum students are involved. Side by side, here in the country there is a Social Work Teachers' Association at national level and has been arranging seminar/workshop as and it felt necessary for sharing ideas and changing philosophies being taking place in operating the practical touch work of the discipline and other matters deemed a necessity. Moreover, attempt has been taken to develop an association of social workers in the country to project the speciality of the discipline and areas of performance for making known to the public, including the policy-makers, planners in the country as a part of advocacy- role.
The emergence social work discipline in the country occurred amidst the 'Technical Assistance Project' early in 1952 when we faced community re-integration and rehabilitation problems in particular in the backdrop of the influx of refugees from India setting mostly in the city areas. We requested the UN to technically assist us overcome the problem along many other associate problems. Although the birth of this discipline took place at the behest of the UN initiative and by preparing professional human-power through specialized training in social work to handle the surprise and multifaceted problems that cropped up effectively by means of community development project; how come to-day it becomes obsolete! The souvenir that was published during care-taker government quoted WA Friedlander's introduction to what about social work at the beginning; in today's context why there is such a need poses to be a question as we have already denied to recognize social work as a professional discipline; now matching it with Bangla, Sanskrit, Urdu, even basic science discipline like chemistry, physics, or masters in different branches of business study. The Council of Social welfare which was established in 1956 for policy formulation and programme planning is still active but the nature of services provided by it, after the establishment of Directorate of Social Welfare Directorate in 1961, is limited to distribution of Grants-in Aid to the social welfare agencies, training of the representatives of those agencies and limited research work only; now it stands in some kind of offside position.
(The concluding part of this article will appear next week.)
Sarker A Hakim, a former Professor of ISWR, Dhaka University, is Vice Chancellor, Islamic University, Kushtia