Social Work Institute, Nepal
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, in the early 1980’s, I look across the school football field and spot four young men sitting on the fresh spring grass. As the Local Superior, I think the scene merits a closer look. I wander out to discover Br. Jim busy counseling three young men from our neighbourhood. I relax. The youngsters are in good hands!
Br. Jim Gates, S.J., of the Detroit Province, joined the Nepal Jesuits to work with late Fr. Tom Gafney, the founder of the St. Xavier’s Social Service Center. Jim supported Tom at the Freedom Center, a live-in facility offering rehabilitation to young addicts.
Jim saw the need for more social workers, so in 1987 started the Nepal Jesuits Social Work Institute, where trainees could learn basic counseling skills, and develop strong motivation to help the poor. The program flourished, with training facilities and hostels for trainees from rural Nepal. The first class graduated in late 1987. When Jim returned to his province in 1993, he had built a strong team to run the program.
The Nepal Region took over, forming a board of directors to encourage and guide the very competent staff. After a year or two the Jesuits realized that the team could run the program on its own, with proper registration in Nepal and excellent cooperation from donors. So the Social Work Institute was on its own!
Each September I enjoy attending the graduation ceremony, to encourage and congratulate both the staff and new trainees, now ready to return home to rural Nepal to put their skills to use. Several staff members have been with the Institute since Jim’s days. They have adapted the training program to meet the changing needs of the poor of Nepal. Over nine hundred men and women have completed the course.
The program stresses “People Led Development,” working with, rather than for, people. The training program prepares people to return to their communities with appropriate leadership skills. They implement local development projects along with other organizations, to correctly address local issues.
Over these three decades the Institute has been able to buy land and build its own training facility. It hopes to continue to meet Nepal’s ever-changing needs. Jim’s love for the poor has born much fruit!