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Jeffrey Bulanda (MSW ‘04, PhD ’08) displays a gift given to him by students he taught at a university in Sierra Leone.

‘Something I was meant to do’ Teaching and living social work in Sierra Leone


effrey Bulanda (MSW ’04, PhD ’08) knew he wanted to work in sub-Saharan Africa. But he didn’t know where. “I started contacting universities,

and it was challenging,” Bulanda says. “Many uni- versities don’t have a website or e-mail. It was by chance that I found out about Sierra Leone—the university there was starting its first-ever social work program.” Bulanda received a Fulbright award to spend

the 2013-2014 academic year teaching the subject, although that’s only part of what he ended up doing. Sierra Leone, located in West Africa, emerged

from a civil war in 2002. Social work education and policy, focusing on mental health and vio- lence prevention, are in their formative stages. “It was a great experience in that social work

isn’t yet defined there, so we got to have a small part in defining it,” Bulanda says. “Working with students to see what they want it to be and what they need—putting together knowledge and understanding—it was great.” Teaching conditions at the university, however,

presented some challenges. There were no textbooks and no electricity.

Class was sometimes held outside. “Many students had poor writing skills,”

Bulanda says. “Class sizes were large—the smallest class I taught had 60 students. A lot of students weren’t computer literate.” Bulanda taught social work courses two days a

week and held office hours three days a week. “Holding office hours there was different from

what it means here,” Bulanda says. “It meant teaching them how to write and how to set up e-mail addresses. I wanted to offer them guidance and support, but I also had to be firm. I said, ‘I understand your struggles, but if you want to work at UNICEF or Save the Children, you’re going to need to know these things.” In addition to his teaching duties, Bulanda


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