The promotion of sustainable social, economic, and human capital development in the international setting has been of vital concern to the social work profession. Additionally, social work has collaborated with other research and service providers in the field of public health, public policy, education, and organization/management to enhance service delivery and sustainability. Partnerships with scientists and engineers, however, have been uncommon. Although scientists and engineers may ideologically embody the same core social work principles of social change and empowerment for vulnerable populations in less developed countries, they adapt a different protocol that focus on the technological aspects, which may undermine or misgauge the true need of their target population. The case study of Lai Xa, Vietnam demonstrates the barriers and successes of integrating a social work framework with a project organized by engineers to promote sustainable development.
This study presents the results of a needs assessment of the rainwater harvesting project conducted jointly by Seoul National University and Hanoi University of Engineering. The project site was Lai Xa, Vietnam, a typical village in the Red River delta, adjacent to Hanoi. The analysis is based on 30 surveys and 7 in-depth interviews of Lai Xa residents. Questions about the resident's drinking, domestic, and farming water source and usage, as well as their perception on different water sources were identified and formulated in collaboration with South Korean and Vietnamese engineering students. The historical and cultural background of the village was also examined. These questions provided key information to understand whether the rainwater harvesting technology brought in by engineers would be accepted and adopted for sustainable use. Collaboration with the village head and the members of the community was necessary to facilitate the study.
The results of the study conducted under a social work paradigm that focuses on identifying the true needs of the target population were the following. (1) There is overwhelmingly high level of trust in rainwater. (2) Rainwater is currently the main source of drinking water. (3) Despite high annual precipitation, the villagers suffer from chronic water shortage problems during the four-month dry season. This information provided engineers to confirm that there is a demand for a catchment and storage technology that ensures long-term availability of clean water. Also, the study helped the engineers make the conclusion that the rainwater system is a promising technology that will be easily accepted not only by residents of Lai Xa, but can be disseminated across other regions in rural Vietnam.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
This case study provides evidence of the potential effectiveness of applying an integrative social work perspective to science and technology-based sustainable development efforts. Conducting a needs assessment study through the lens of a social worker can provide scientists and engineers with a new perspective to better help them identify the specific needs of the individuals and community.