Fulbright Greece supports scholarships for social workers to participate in the Building Bridges Program on Social Services, Human Rights, and Education. The program aims to enhance the knowledge and skills of international social workers by observing and interacting with colleagues in the United States.
In spring 2019, the Fulbright Foundation in Greece partnered with the Council of International Programs USA (CIPUSA) and the Council of International Fellowship Hellas (CIF Hellas) for the selection and inclusion of two Greek professionals in the fields of social work and NGO administration in the annual Building Bridges Program (Fall Program) hosted in Phoenix, Arizona (September–November, 2019).
Fulbright Greece has collaborated with the Council of International Programs USA (CIPUSA) since 1956. The idea was to bring to Greek-American teachers skilled in the field of social work to train and assist Greek social workers and to provide scholarships to Greek social workers and teachers for training and practice in the United States. Fulbright has offered numerous grants to support social work and youth leadership programs.
Theano Pyrovolisianou, a social worker for the Safe Refugee Assistance Program of SolidarityNow in Athens, and Michail Ragkousis, Samos Coordinator for the Accommodation and Case Management for Asylum Seekers of ARSIS NGO, departed from Athens in September 2019 to join the international team of six participants from Turkey, India, Spain, and Greece in Phoenix.
Michail Ragkousis recounts, “I met with academics, social workers, volunteering organisations and other specialists on the issue of migration, including the Consul of Mexico in Tucson and other consular officials. I stayed with a host family in Agua Prieta at the borders between the U.S.A. and Mexico and had the chance to visit two migrant shelters on the Mexican side where I volunteered to help with the preparation of meals for 40 people.”
Theano Pyrovolisianou explains, “First, I was placed to work in a daily center for LGBTIQ+ youth. The center was open from 12 to 8 for the employees and from 4 to 8 for the youth. The beneficiaries had the opportunity to socialize, use the computers, play video games, or learn an instrument. During the afternoon, usually from 6 p.m. onward, there were specialized group meetings that would focus, for example, on employability, sexual health, theater/improv or making candies for Halloween! The most important aspect of these meetings was to create a safe haven for its participants. In addition, I connected with different services, such as the HIV Community Health Center/McDowell Clinic and Phoenix Pride, which in turn led to a volunteer opportunity with IGRA (International Gay Rodeo Association)—a very fun experience!"
“During our stay in Phoenix, we had the opportunity to visit different places, like DREAM center, where victims of human trafficking, homeless people, ex-convicts, and single mothers can stay for a period of time and be supported in order to improve their life conditions. Another visit was planned to the police academy where a detective talked to us about the issue of human trafficking and the techniques police follow to solve related cases."
“In Tuscon, I was introduced to Spectrum, another LGBTIQ+ youth center, offering opportunities to youth as a part of a research program of the Southwest Institute for Research on Women and an educational program on the subject of sexual health addressed to kids from 11 years old and upward. This same program is also offered as an extracurricular activity in some schools, and I was allowed to sit in on one of those sessions in the classroom. A questionnaire was distributed to the kids with questions about sexual health, relationships, gender, and sexuality. Then, an introduction to the themes of the following weeks was presented in a very inclusive way. This good practice was one of the best in my opinion.”
Photo Credit: Michail Ragkousis