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Social work to change Cambodia

Social workers from the Ewha Social Welfare Centre in Phnom Penh pose with the group of school children that participate to their educational programs. Photograph supplied

Social work, long-established in developed countries but unheard-of in Cambodia, could be set to change the face of child protection in the country as interest in the field grows.

Last week, a hundred potential social workers from around the country came to Phnom Penh for an introduction to a degree in social work, as the career is becoming recognised by academics as “an important tool to cope with social problems” in the country.

About 100 crowded out the grand hall in the Cambodiana Hotel, which hosted a workshop on September 20 for students interested in joining the country’s second ever masters program in social work.

The two-year course, which can take on up to 25 students, will start at the end of this year, the second time it has run since it was launched in 2009. The first bachelor degree in social work was started at Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) in 2008.

Academics at the university, who created the course in partnership with the South Korea-based Ewha Womans University, say that the degree will play an important role in training the next generation of social problem-solvers.

Um Ravy, the vice rector of RUPP who chaired the event, said: “Even though social work is just beginning to take off in Cambodia, this major is emerging as an important tool to cope with social problems.”

The course, created by RUPP and the Social Welfare Centre at Ewha Womans University, the world’s largest female educational institute, is a memorandum between the two countries to improve social work in Cambodia and the capacity of women to take a leading role.

Last October Ewha founded a Social Welfare Centre in Phnom Penh, close to the airport, which runs education programs for children from low-income families, computer courses for women and workers, and projects that can contribute to the development of local neighbourhoods.

Last week’s workshop at RUPP was aimed at attracting students for the master’s degree, where they will learn to run similar programs.

In addition to top ranking officials from the boards of both universities and officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, previous social work students from RUPP spoke about their experiences.

Tuo Solyneath, 28, was one of the first students to take the master’s degree in social work. Now a lecturer at RUPP, she was hesistant before she registered for the course as she did not understand the concept of social workers, but the course opened her eyes to the necessity to have them in Cambodia, she said.

“I think this program helps identify the common issues are happening in society,” she said. “I plan to help a school to create a network of social work there. I will focus on talking to kids who are at risk during their schooling,” she added.

Gneth Sokha, 29, anotherformer master’s student, said: “It will help us set up policy and projects for community development.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Pann Rethea at



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