Best Investment for a Healthier World


Recognizing Social Workers, the Weavers of Human Relationships

Nilbellys Pimienta Ramirez, a social worker with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, holds a baby during a house visit in Riohacha. Photo credit: HRH2030 Colombia.

Nilbellys Pimienta Ramirez, a social worker with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, holds a baby during a house visit in Riohacha. Photo credit: HRH2030 Colombia.

Children represent Colombia’s future, yet too many children remain affected by the country’s past.  The scars of decades of civil conflict lodge deep in the psyche of generations of families. This is particularly true in the southern department of Huila, home to more than 252,000 children—or 25 percent of its total population.

The Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF, or Colombian Family Welfare Institute) reported nearly 1,000 cases of physical and psychological violence, negligence, and other types of abuse against children in Huila in the first half of 2019. How those children are supported today will impact their physical and mental health now and throughout their adulthood. It is in this context that social service workers, like me, work to protect these children and promote their well-being.

On this World Social Work Day, let’s all recognize the work social workers do to improve the health and welfare of children and families. We have the crucial role of working to prevent violence and identify abuse at an early stage. When we diagnose abuse, we and other professionals are also responsible for establishing the best path to provide care and protection. 

Our work also includes accompanying the victims of violence through their recovery, supporting their personal development, and ensuring their mental health. Our greatest reward is to see children’s’ faces transform from suffering to joy. As my colleague, psychologist Lorena García, says, I have had the satisfaction of receiving the gratitude of the people, seeing the smiles of the children and the tranquility of the mothers after the guidance I give them. Seeing progress in families is my biggest motivation.

We understand that stronger family relationships help protect children against violence and are a key element for victims’ recovery. And so, the work we do is to weave the invisible threads of these relationships into a stronger safety net, to ensure family well-being: we are weavers of human relationships. In this line of work, the emotions of the people we work with are always present—as are ours, which can complicate things for us.

We often feel others’ pain as if it were ours, which impacts our emotional and mental health. For this reason, to be a social worker you need to have a very delicate balance of professional skills and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, in Colombia, there is a lack of institutions to train new professionals in the social and human sciences that are needed for the social service workforce. This is a big challenge we face—in the entire department of Huila there is only one public institution for higher education, the Universidad Surcolombiana.

Because of that, the support of public and private organizations and other donors is always welcome. One of these programs is USAID’s Human Resources for Health in 2030 Program (HRH2030), which works in partnership with ICBF, providing training to social workers to improve and expand social services in Huila and La Guajira. We provide trainings on hard and soft skills directly to social workers to increase local capacity. HRH2030 also works on a more strategic level with ICBF, contributing to the development and implementation of a national strategy, and the support of national programs like Mi Familia and Ni Uno Más. More support like this and greater investment in social workers—not just on World Social Work Day but every day— are necessary.

To guarantee the health and well-being of all children, we need a stronger social workforce, capable of monitoring the different environments that children frequent: schools, neighborhoods, and even homes. In my years of experience, I have been fortunate to visit all these spaces and have learned from each case. I have seen the resilience of children, families, and my fellow social workers. And, although the environments we work in are complex, we have a high vocation of service, the ability to learn from each person we work with, and the knowledge that in many cases we are the best option to guarantee the well-being of our youth. 

We dream of a more resilient community that can face its challenges and where we all take better care of our children. With this goal in mind, we, the weavers of relationships, come with our threads and needles to bring together, stitch by stitch, our families and communities, and give our youth the childhood they deserve.

Nidia Vargas is the HRH2030 Colombia Social Services Specialist for Huila, a department in the south of the country. She holds a master’s degree in clinical and family psychology and has experience working in relevant social sector positions throughout Huila. As an advisor, project director, service leader, and coordinator with the Amor y Vida Social Foundation, Nidia led efforts to address barriers to education, wellbeing, and peace affecting communities, families, and children in Huila and Caquetá. She has also provided psychological services through the Colombian Agency for Reintegration and the Corporación Casa de la Memoria Quipu Huasi.