Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Volume 1 Issue 2 - Page 56

INTRO | HIGHLIGHTS | FEATURES | PHOTO STORIES | FOCUS | INTERVIEWS | PERSPECTIVES | BIOS Identity and Development during times of Crisis: A conversation with Professor Abye Tasse Brett Cherry speaks with Abye Tasse about the importance of identity in rebuilding after crisis During a political upheaval leading to militaristic violence or a natural disaster that brings the history of an entire country to a standstill, the search for who we are and where we come from as individuals, communities and nations could not be of greater importance. When disasters occur, whether manmade or ‘natural’, we need to rebuild not only the physical structures of a former life, but also an identity. If the situation is bad enough people may be forced to leave the very places they first called home. They may have to travel to an entirely different social, cultural and political landscape in order to create a new life. Many millions of people from Africa have experienced this situation firsthand and one of them, Professor Abye Tasse, who fled his home country Ethiopia at the age of 16, was forced not only to leave his family and culture behind, but also to immerse himself in an entirely foreign place, language and people in France. He is now a world-renowned international leader in social work education. His PhD on Ethiopians in France and the United States: New forms of migration was later published as a book, and it received the highest honour in the French education system. In France, he started work as a social youth worker in poor communities. Later he would describe their situation thus: ‘The poor who have nothing, yet we have everything’. He foresaw the possibilities of poor communities moving beyond poverty and the plethora of other seemingly insurmountable challenges they face. After he returned to Ethiopia, Tasse participated in the rebuilding of the country’s School of Social Work by serving as its first dean at Addis Ababa University. The University provides teaching at undergraduate, master and PhD level. With the support of sociologist and social worker Professor Lena Dominelli at Durham University, he was elected President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work. His role in social work education included focusing on the development of African perspectives in teaching programmes and promoting anti-racist policies and practices. Growing up in Ethiopia and migrating to France, Tasse possessed a distinctive perspective that combined both African and European values. He supports social work education that does not begin with a clean slate, but within a context indigenous to the area. According to Tasse: Being successful with a community may be considered a populist approach. Understanding that people are not just there to be a subject of study, but want to understand the problems at hand. If you link with community you have to be very careful, because at the same time it’s going to be seen negatively by a part of the academia who are supposed to be distant from the community and expect to know what’s best for them. It’s not easy to question the entire system. You are not an outsider, but you are not an insider either. All the time you have to find a balance. The issue is if you don’t know, you don’t understand. When social workers and scientists work with communities, especially those from non-Western societies, there is a tendency to apply ‘solutions’ that seem remote from the problems that people experience. There is also concern to