University of Calgary

Flood relief puts Social Work education to the test

UToday HomeJuly 2, 2013

Social Work students Salma Mohiuddin and Sarah Winstanley have been working to assist evacuees staying at Yamnuska Hall on the University of Calgary campus.Social Work students Salma Mohiuddin and Sarah Winstanley have been working to assist evacuees staying at Yamnuska Hall on the University of Calgary campus.By Kim Lawrence

It was unusually calm in the donation room at Yamnuska Hall when Salma Mohiuddin and Sarah Winstanley first met one another. Like many other strangers connecting under unusual circumstances last week, Mohiuddin, a Social Work master’s student in her final year, and Winstanley, a Social Work graduate from 2011, shared their personal stories of the floods and what led them to volunteer.

“The dean (Jackie Sieppert) sent out a call asking who could come to campus to help welcome evacuees and I responded right away, not knowing exactly what I’d be doing,” says Mohiuddin, who spent several days onsite in the early days following the disaster. What she found was unlike any textbook theory, emergency scenario, or in-field internship she had ever experienced.

“When I arrived, the big challenge was figuring out how to best handle the volume of arrivals,” she recalls. “There were high-needs and vulnerable populations coming in, people who desperately required the most basic of amenities and care. We had to be flexible and do whatever was necessary as the situation shifted around us.”

At one point, she was assigned to speak with an older woman who had lost everything to the rising waters; the senior was despondent because she had been unable to save any photos from her home. “I listened to her, provided her with what comfort I could, and stayed with her until she was assigned a room,” says Mohiuddin. “When everything around you is in chaos, sometimes having someone stop and listen to you makes all the difference.”

Knowing this, Mohiuddin was paired with a Nursing student and together they made the rounds of the building, knocking on doors, listening to story after story of loss and displacement, and providing basic necessities to people who had very little time to prepare before being evacuated.

“We had a chance to see and understand the intricacies of one another’s professions,” she says. “By tag-teaming, we learned on the fly about where it made sense to transition a resident from her care to mine. Not that I ever had any doubt, but I really saw and appreciated the distinct impact of social work during those days.”

Alumna Winstanley was on her first shift at the residences this past weekend but felt she needed to be there. She works at a women’s centre in the city and heard through Facebook that her skills would be valued at Yamnuska. “I still feel really connected to the university,” she says, “and I really wanted to help. It is a tremendous honour to serve people while they are in distress; they give you their trust and confide in you when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Winstanley plans to return to the university this fall to begin her Master of Social Work. Mohiuddin will be graduating with hers this year.

Do you need flood assistance? Would you like to volunteer to help others affected by flooding in southern Alberta? Sign up under one of the flood assistance options offered to the University of Calgary community.