Summer in Africa 

Marvin Horne, back row, center, and Michela Paniccia, second row, center, both MSW alums, joined the 2015 Summer Tour of Africa. The next tour is tentatively scheduled for July 23-Aug. 6, 2018.   

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2017) – Have you ever wanted to see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years, and where he secretly began writing the famous story of his lifelong fight against apartheid, Long Walk to Freedom?

The notorious prison in South Africa is just one of many locations students will visit next summer on the Summer Study Tour to Africa, an academic program led by School of Social Welfare (SSW) Associate Professor Robert L. Miller.

Through this short-term study abroad opportunity, students examine the policies governing social work and public health services in South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria), Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Stone Town, Zanzibar. The program is tentatively scheduled for July 23-Aug. 6.

Michela Paniccia, a May 2016 Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from Ballston Spa, joined the program in 2015 because it related to her course of study.

The  program is part of the Africa Policy and Social Work course in SSW, and satisfies the advanced policy requirement for MSW students. With Miller’s permission, graduate and undergraduate students from other programs may participate.

“The course examines the policies that govern social service provision in HIV disease, gender rights and child welfare in various African nations. My research focused on the decriminalization of sex work in South Africa,” said Paniccia, a senior health care program specialist for the New York State Department of Health.

When in Soweto, the students on the 2018 visit will live steps away from the family homes of former President Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Miller said, adding, “In Cape Town, we will meet with people who encounter the effects of health, economic and housing policies that allow for continuing disparate living conditions despite the elimination of apartheid policies.”

Marvin Horne, a social worker from Albany who earned his MSW from UAlbany in May, was also on the 2015 program. “Africa was wonderfully beautiful on so many levels,” he said. “Communities are connected by love, mutual acceptance and heritage.”

He found the physical beauty of the continent “astonishing and full of color.”

He was also changed by the people.

“Interactions with the different people from different countries felt easy, natural and engaging. I felt that Africans took genuine interest in everyone, regardless of skin color or any physical trait,” said Horne. “Simply put, they seemed to care much about other people’s stories and experiences; this is very dissimilar to routine American daily life and interactions.”

Three students on the 2016 trip.

Gordon Collier, at right, joined the 2016 trip.   

Gordon Collier, a licensed social worker from Schenectady who earned his MSW from UAlbany in 2015 and who serves on the board of the Albany Damien Center, was part of the 2016 visit.

“I always wanted to go to Africa, being a black man in America,” Collier said. “So when the opportunity presented itself I wanted to take advantage of it. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.”

The experience not only changed his life, it provided it with greater depth, he said. He was also impacted by “the welcoming sense of brotherhood I received from so many and, lastly, the spiritual nature and energy that I could feel, viscerally.”

Paniccia said the study program gave her experiential learning that was critical to her development as a social worker.

“I can honestly say I am forever impacted by the experience,” she said.

“If you’re like me, you may be worried about the time and cost — but once I settled into my decision it was clear that I was allowing room for myself to grow. Trust the process,” Paniccia said.

“How many opportunities will you have to travel the African continent and learn about its unique social issues?” said Horne. “Not to mention, with one of the greatest teachers I have ever had: Dr. Robert Miller.”

For more information on the summer 2018 program, contact Miller, the officer of instruction and program director, at [email protected].

The study tour is organized by the US-Africa Partnership for Stronger Communities project. UAlbany Distinguished Professor Emerita Shirley Jones, a SSW faculty member for more than two decades, initiated the program in 2000.

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