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Social worker comes full circle out West

  • Genevieve Sang-Yum

16 May 2024

Genevieve Sang-Yum, embodying hope in the face of New Zealand's family violence statistics, educates future social workers at Unitec's Waitakere campus, bridging theory with real-world practice to inspire impactful change.

New Zealand is ranked as the worst-developed country in the OECD for family violence. So, having people with real-world insights to train new social workers is essential if we want to achieve change.

Genevieve Sang-Yum is such a person, and she’s not only incredibly eloquent and passionate. Still, she has gone full circle, from studying at the local Waitakere campus of Unitec and working in the community to teaching there to pass on her learnings to the next generation. 

Sang-Yum is a qualified and registered social worker of both Samoan and Chinese heritage. She ran family violence facilitation programmes tailored explicitly for Māori and Pasifika female victims and perpetrators. She also provided cultural supervision for social workers, including seven years of service with Women’s Refuge, specialising in this field. 

Sang-Yum has an immediate answer when asked about her advice for new social workers and those studying to enter the field. “There are three important things to remember when entering the social work field: First, remember your values and who you are. There will be challenges, temptations, and even triggers, so remember not to allow yourself to be swept away. “Second, keep an open mind. Inclusivity and being objective are part and parcel of this career path. “And third, take care of yourself. Your mental, spiritual, and physical well-being is important. Know that your kete (basket) will be emptied daily, so find a positive, healthy way to refill it. ”

Sang-Yum once believed that nursing was the sole career path serving the community. However, after obtaining the Certificate of Community Skills in 2012, she discovered the field of social work. This prompted her to pursue a Bachelor of Social Practice at Unitec, the institution that laid the foundation for her social work career. 

Now, the student is the teacher, with Sang-Yum stepping back into the classroom in February this year to take up a lecturer role in social work at Unitec’s Waitakere campus. With nine different programmes in social work, ranging from the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing – Community Facilitation to a Master of Applied Practice (Social Practice), she contributes to teaching within the Bachelor of Social Practice. 

In her brief time teaching at Unitec, Sang-Yum integrates an academic teaching style with an interactive approach. She focuses on preparing her students for what they can expect to encounter when practicing social workers. By incorporating practical work into the classroom, such as guided discussions, small group activities, and cultural considerations, she combines and interprets theoretical frameworks from various scholarly sources in a way that highlights their relevance to the subject matter discussed in class. This helps students make sense of what they will experience in the field. 

She acknowledges the progress in incorporating Te Ao Māori perspectives into social work education. She highlights recent developments, emphasising an extended exploration of ethnic and cultural models. “As a new lecturer, I bring a fresh approach to the classroom, incorporating storytelling as one of the key teaching methods,” Sang-Yum said. “I am excited to contribute to the ongoing evolution of our curriculum, exploring innovative teaching strategies for our students.”


This article was originally published by Western Leader.