It’s nighttime in South Africa, but Dominique McGaha, a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) student, is not winding down for the evening. After a day of working in her second field placement, it is now class time for her. But Dominique embraces the busy and exciting season she’s in. After all, the international social work experience is one of the main reasons Dominique chose the Steve Hicks School of Social Work (SHSSW) in the first place.
Dominique’s original reason for coming to the SHSSW evolved and developed significantly over her two years of study. Originally, she graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and spent three years working in an autism clinic. But she realized that she wanted something more. Social work in particular spoke to her and her ultimate goals. She is steadily pursuing international social work, though she isn’t sure about a specific role within that field yet.
Dominique is currently working and staying at the Adonis Musati Project in Wynburg, just outside of Cape Town. The Project’s work surrounds working with refugees and asylum seekers. Dominique explains that there are not many laws in place in South Africa to help refugees, so the Adonis Musati Project, a non-governmental organization (NGO), steps in to help and fill those gaps.
This is Dominique’s second time abroad as a student; her first was a study-abroad semester spent in Hong Kong where she was a part of a minority population. Her experience in Hong Kong helped influence her to choose Cape Town, South Africa; she wanted to experience a field placement where she was among the majority population.
Dominique has enjoyed two elements of this field experience particularly: counseling sessions with the refugees and the youth program. In counseling sessions, Dominique gets to hear the individual stories and support people in their most vulnerable moments. The participants get to feel heard. It’s a learning experience for her, but it’s helpful for them as well.
The youth program allows Dominique to educate and empower young refugees and asylum seekers. She points out that children and young people often get a bad rap. It’s assumed that they don’t know what they want, what is happening to them, or how to take things seriously. The refugee and asylum-seeking children are aware and have so much to say.
Dominique knows how important representation is, and as a black woman, she wants to lead by example and empower other black and brown women and children to succeed. In her previous internship with Black Mamas ATX, she created a women empowerment program. Her curriculum encouraged women to be proud of themselves and express their sexuality and involved lots of movement and sensory activities, from pole yoga to sound healing.
As a social worker, Dominique hopes and is working to see deep, systemic changes in our society. “We can’t just continue to put band-aids on problems and expect them to not continue to get bigger or not to need fixing.” She also wants to positively affect the field of social work. She wants to intentionally seek out the stories of those who social work affects the most, giving them the opportunity to redefine social workers, themselves.
Dominique only has praise to offer her professors and fellow students and is grateful for their support: “They inspire me to be a better me; they inspire me to think critically and hard!” As she has been inspired, Dominique hopes to in turn inspire and empower the next generation of black and brown social workers.