Hunter College Brings Social Work Education Expertise to Afghanistan’s Public Universities


Hunter College Brings Social Work Education Expertise to Afghanistan’s Public Universities Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work has received a $2.3 million contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to strengthen the counseling psychology department of Kabul and Herat Universities, Afghanistan’s flagship schools in its public university system.
According to Martha Bragin, Associate Professor at Hunter’s Silberman School of Social Work and the chair of the Global Social Work and Practice with Immigrants and Refugees, the new program will seek to help people experiencing the results of decades of uninterrupted warfare.

“Public health officials reported that 80% of people who came in to mental health clinics were not mentally ill nor substance abusers—they were people who had been impacted by the 40 years of war,” said Professor Bragin.

In Professor Bragin’s earlier work with New York City’s government as well as those in countries such as Vietnam, Uganda, and Nepal, she sought to support the building of institutions that could address the needs of populations affected by armed conflict, poverty and natural disaster by professionalizing social welfare services, from child welfare and child protection to community based counseling.

From these experiences, and a 2010 challenge to support Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in developing social work as a profession and as an academic discipline so that both government and non-government organizations could provide transparent and effective social services to Afghan communities, families and children, this new program was conceived.

Bragin and other Hunter and Afghan colleagues toured the country to get a better understanding of what existed and what would be accepted.  From there, they developed a uniquely Afghan version of social work which included competency standards, curricula and syllabi for different academic degree levels.  In 2014, Kabul University opened its first ever Social Work department and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs entered social work as a qualified profession in Afghanistan.

“While this was a big accomplishment, there were still great needs for services to communities, families and individuals,” said Professor Bragin.

“Everyday, the faculty, students and alumni of Hunter’s Silberman School of Social Work can be found helping fellow New Yorkers,” said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab.  “I couldn’t be more proud of the work of Professor Bragin, who is bringing this same care and expertise to Afghanistan, and in doing so showing the world the best of Hunter College.”

The newly funded program will be based on national research including one study designed to learn how counseling is understood in the Afghan context and the competencies needed to be an Afghan counselor.  Another study will develop a baseline for understanding psychological and social well-being for adults and children in the Afghan context.  Additionally, there will be onsite support to develop Afghan materials such as training videos and assessment tools, faculty development activities and three study tours to learn how other countries in the region have implemented counseling programs.  The program will also support the development of a model counseling center at each university, to support the development of best practice, and provide a model for care.

“Perhaps most important, the counseling center will help a new generation of conflict-affected students to stay in school, graduate and serve their country as its future leaders and healers,” said Professor Bragin.
On a visit arranged by Hunter/Silberman, Bragin recently joined faculty from Herat and Kabul universities on a trip to Mumbai, India, to study with professors of the School of Human Ecology at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“The work of these brave and innovative Afghan professors to build an institution that will study ways to heal the wounds of war, and contribute to the education of a new generation of Afghan professionals can be transformative.  It is an honor and a privilege to accompany them in that work,” said Professor Bragin.