Mergen Sahetliyev of the city of Ashgabat and his other colleagues from 20 pilot districts throughout the country are making a real difference to families and children by working for or cooperation with 12 new community-based social services provided to different groups of vulnerable people all over the country.
Having tertiary qualifications in psychology, Mergen decided to take a different path in his professional growth. He successfully went through the rigid recruitment process to become one of the 45 social workers employed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population as part of the UN-Turkmenistan Joint Programme on social services.
“It would be misleading to assume that what we do as new professionals in social service system does not require any special training or professional development.” says Mergen. “Not only does it require intensive training, but also close professional supervision, especially for those who are new to this area” he adds up, trying to highlight the importance of professionalism in social work.
It has never been easy to be the first. Being from the rank of the first social workers in Turkmenistan, who received a series of trainings and professional supervisions, Mergen not only provides social services to families in difficult life situations, but is also an active member of a group of theorists and practitioners of social work services, sharing irreplaceable practical knowledge with the teaching staff of universities thereby contributing to the establishment of the Turkmen vocational school of social work and to the development of educational programs in Turkmen universities in the field of social work.
In addition to a three-step course in social work fundamentals, in June Mergen completed a specialized training on supporting families with children in situations of contact or risk of contact with criminal justice. At the end of the course, with the support of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, he and his colleagues from the Center for Social Services under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of Turkmenistan organized seminars within the framework of the "Strong Families" program. In the workshops, Mergen worked with parents and children to help them develop their skills for coping with stress, better understanding each other and developing resilience in families to cope with difficult life situations.
Dana Aydarova, who participated in the seminars with her 10-year-old daughter, says she and her daughter enjoyed seminars very much and would like to have more activities like this in their community.
“We learnt so much about each other. We also learnt how to be patient, started to better understand each other’s needs and learnt how to be tolerant,” says Dana.
Mergen and his team made assessment of families and will continues to work with some of them according to the “Treatnet Family” programme. These workshops will be offered to a relatively smaller groups over several months until families’ resilience is developed, and until they overcome life difficulties using their own potentials and available sources in the community.
“Today we see the fruits of our hard work” say Mergen, “We held some part of these sessions at “Yenme” public association and some part at the Centers for elderly people and people with disabilities of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population of Turkmenistan.”
Annatach Mamedova, UNODC Officer, says: “In partnership with civil society organization and government agencies, UNODC pilots 3 community-based social services and the social service for families in difficult life situations is one of them. Mergen and many other representatives of our national partners participated in service trainings before starting to provide them at community level.”
She also added that, other than Mergen’s team, some schoolteachers, narcologists and representatives of two CSOs also formed their own groups to provide similar services at community level.
Mergen and his colleagues collaborate with different government and non-government agencies when providing services to these families.
“Working with different agencies and institutions in social work is not easy when you are not professionally prepared for that. It took a while for us to develop necessary skills and now most of my colleagues are building bridges between different agencies and social service providers so that beneficiaries would have an opportunity to use all available resources in their communities,” says Mergen.
Building rapport both with service users and different service providers helps social workers be more efficient in their work. Despite short period of their work, new social workers proved themselves to be successful in implementing their responsibilities. They gained much recognition by government agencies and CSOs involved in social service provision.
Turkmenistan Government widely support new initiatives in improving social service provision system of the country with a new model of social services. The hope is that all new services piloted as part of the Joint Programme will be prove to be useful and people in need will have more choices at their communities to overcome life challenges. This is important for ensuring the rights of all people to improve their life conditions with their own active involvement in decision making and participation in social service provision.