God-Talk and Kin-Talk in the Survival Epistemology of Liberian Refugee Women: A Radical Challenge for Social Work

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Maura B Nsonwu (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Kathleen Casey

Abstract: The United States is once again experiencing an enormous influx of refugees and immigrants. This generates a number of challenges for the social work profession. Attention must be given to the differences between voluntary immigrants and traumatized refugees. From the point of view of social workers, each group must be understood in terms of its own cultural framework of meaning. There are, for example, important differences among Montagnard, Bosnian, and Liberian newcomers. Social workers must become conscious of their own cultural framework of meaning which may very well clash with that of their client. This study utilizes narrative research methodology to empower Liberian refugee mothers and grandmothers through the telling of their life stories. The oral tradition of storytelling is culturally rooted in African society as a gift of sharing lessons and offering guidance. As these refugee women speak of their experiences, their voices inform social work knowledge and cross cultural practice. I conducted in-depth interviews with seven Liberian refugee women currently living in the southern region of the United States. I was connected to all these women through refugee support projects. I asked each woman to tell me the story of her life. I tape recorded, transcribed, and analyzed these interviews using narrative research methodology: noting their selectivity (the women constantly made reference to God's protection), silence (the women's omissions may be misinterpreted by the social worker), slippage ("kin" relations as described by African narrators may not correspond to social work categories). Although each woman tells her own individual story, she also expresses experiences and interpretations which resonate with the other women. The emphasis of the collective experience in overcoming hardships highlights these women's views of hope centered in a religious and familial context. These Liberian refugee women know that God will carry them through their suffering. They also know that the survival of their people depends on articulating an ongoing network of caring relationships. The secular professional ethos of social work potentially inhibits the sensitivity of the social worker towards belief systems emphasizing God and kin. As a marginalized group, the voices of refugees have not been part of prevailing discourse in our society. As victims of persecution, trauma, and violence, refugees have had limited or non-existence personal control of their lives. This study combines an understanding and knowledge of the political, cultural, social, and historical context of Liberians with social work to explore implications that examine cross cultural practice, pedagogy, and research with refugees.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2008
Liberian refugees, refugees, social work, refugee women, spirituality, education
Women refugees--Liberia
Social Work--United States
Social work with immigrants--United States
Intercultural communication
Social work with women--Cross-cultural studies
Liberian Americans

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