Growing up in the small town of Kingsburg just 20 miles south of Fresno Julie Wright aspired to expand her horizons and explore beyond her comfort zone. The second year Master of Social Work student said she always knew she had a bigger goal than herself.
In 2011, she found that goal across the globe in Kenya, where she was practicing for Empowering Lives International an organization that provides orphans and families with self-sustaining skills to succeed beyond poverty.
During that trip, her life changed forever. She met women struggling with substance abuse and the effects of sexual violence. She also learned English for orphans and first aid for village elders living in some of the region’s most rural and desolate areas. These stories and experiences left him wanting to learn and do more.
This organization met with their clients wherever they were: in slums, clinics, orphanages, or along red-clay streets, Wright said. A fire broke out inside me during this first trip to Kenya. Not only did I grow this passion and great love for Kenya, but at the same time, I fell in love with being a social worker and being able to help people and serve people.
She planted her goals in East Africa and saw them flourish while at the University of Fresno Pacific, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. She later returned to Kenya in 2017 this time as a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program in Fresno.
While there, she helped Hope Matters International develop a prototype of psychosocial assessment that she hopes will one day be used by Kenyan social workers in the region. She said the goal is to take a holistic approach to individuals by understanding them as a whole person physically, spiritually and emotionally in an effort to better serve them. Today, she is expanding this work, including it with her master thesis on the same topic.
Her commitment to helping others on a global scale won the prestigious Wright Council for Social Work Education Partner Award in International Education, which honors the contributions of social work students as partners in advancing education for international social work. Wright said receiving the award came as a surprise. Faculty in Department of Social Work Education they see it as deserved.
Working with Julie very closely, she is extremely culturally sensitive and does not believe in simply applying Western values and concepts to a developing country. Rather, it works collaboratively and lends what it learns and discusses with local partners [as to] what is appropriate and what is not and acts as a teaching and guiding servant, said Dr. Dheeshana Jayasundara, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work Education in the state of Fresno.
Wright was awarded the prize during a meeting of the Global Social Work Education Commission, held November 16-20.
This is the second year in a row that students from the Department of Social Work Education have been honored with this award. In 2019, a group of 15 undergraduate and graduate students were recognized for their global efforts. In the summer of 2019, the group traveled and presented their research projects to the International Consortium for Social Development in Indonesia. To date, they are the first group of students to receive the Partners in Education award.
Wright, set to graduate in May 2021, plans to return to Kenya to continue her thesis work when she is sure to travel again. This time, she wants to take the knowledge gained from her academic experiences to work in collaboration with her Kenyan counterparts.
For me, social work does not end in the US alone, Wright said. I want to take what I have learned here in Fresno State to serve and empower others. The university offered me the opportunity to perfectly combine my love for Kenya and my passion for this field of work. As a social worker, I know that certain empowerment makes the course more radical for all transformations.
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