DSW Student Nancy Murakami Awarded IASWG Grant to Aid Refugees in Uganda

Nancy Murakami
Nancy Murakami

The International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) has endorsed second-year DSW student Nancy Murakami’s proposed Refugee Transit Camp Psychosocial Support Group project and awarded her funding from its small grant SPARC Program to launch the project at the Nyakabande Transit Camp in Nyakabande, Uganda.

Murakami has worked with refugees at Nyakabande Transit Camp for the past six months as the pro bono Program Manager for Friends of Kisoro, a community based organization providing services at the camp. “Transit camps are often the initial point of security for individuals and families fleeing war, violence, threats, and other human rights abuses,” Murakami said. “As a result, refugees experience symptoms of acute stress and many arrive without support systems to help them navigate the aftermath of the horrors they have endured.”

Through a six-session, single-gender, structured group model, Murakami’s Psychosocial Support Group project aims to enhance refugees’ awareness of psychosocial well-being, strengthen their resilience by expanding their distress management skills, and promote community-building in order to reduce isolation. She noted that the project is aligned with a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ global review that recommends mental health and psychosocial approaches be integrated into refugee protection activities.

Although Murakami is based in New York, she travels to the Nyakabande Transit Camp once a quarter, provides weekly telephonic supervision to Friends of Kisoro’s on-the-ground social worker, and is in regular email communication with colleagues and leaders of other organizations working at the camp. She spent an extended period there in October 2017, when she and Friends of Kisoro’s social worker co-led men’s and women’s pilot groups to gauge interest and resolve logistical concerns.

“We anticipated that each pilot group would draw 10-12 participants,” Murakami said. “Instead we had 58 in the women’s group and 52 in the men’s. These numbers might come down once the project is officially launched and additional groups are offered but they show there is a strong interest among refugees in coming together with others to be supportive and supported.”

IAWSG awarded Murakami the full amount she sought: $865, which will go a long way towards supporting the training of three social workers to facilitate the groups and the piloting of three cycles of the groups. One U.S. Dollar is currently equivalent to over 3,500 Ugandan Shillings. It is one of the larger grants given by the SPARC Program, whose purpose is “to ‘spark’ IASWG members' innovative practice, education, training and research projects through endorsement and small grants to advance the IASWG mission.”

With that funding secured, Murakami is now turning her attention to the development of the intervention, including producing a manual for standardized delivery. That work is the focus of an independent study she is taking in the Spring 2018 semester with Professor and DSW Program Director Dr. Carol Tosone. “Dr. Tosone is an ideal mentor for me to have on this project,” Murakami said. “She is a recognized expert in individual and collective trauma, and has hands-on experience in development and implementation of culturally appropriate, community-oriented interventions in multiple global contexts.”

Murakami is balancing her DSW course work with her responsibilities at Friends of Kisoro and a part-time position as a Graduate Research Assistant at NYU Silver’s Center on Violence and Recovery. She said she is motivated by a sense of responsibility to communities that are underserved.

Prior to earning her MSW at Columbia University, Murakami taught secondary school and led health and gender-based initiatives as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa. “I was confronted with people experiencing psychosocial challenges,” she said, “but I did not have the social work training to know how to help them. That is what drove me to pursue my MSW.” As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she went on to work with survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual violence at the Safe Horizon Counseling Center in New York City, and to hold clinical and leadership positions at Burma Border Projects in Thailand and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture in New York City.

Murakami said, “Two years ago, I decided to go back to school to build upon what I already know so I can have an even greater impact. One of the reasons I was interested in the DSW over the PhD program is its focus on clinical skills, approaches and capacities, and its community of clinicians who have been practicing for years and continue to be passionate about the work. I am learning about new approaches that can be applied with refugees and trauma survivors, as well as ones that can be employed on an organizational level to create truly trauma-informed systems of care. That is what I ultimately hope to do.”