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I Want to Help Make a Borderless World

Maki Usui, MSW ’19

  • Practice Method:
    Community Organizing
  • Practice Area:
    Child and Youth, Families in Society
  • Field Placement:
    Camp Ritsona, Ritsona, Greece
  • Scholarship:
    Olivia P. Maynard Children and Family Fellowship

“I was interested in global social work,” Maki Usui says. “When I applied to graduate schools, I focused on those with strong MSW programs and solid global programs. The U-M School of Social Work had both, so it became my top choice.” Maki was accepted and was able to attend in part because she received an Olivia P. Maynard Children and Family Fellowship. She is now a Global Activities Scholar at the School of Social Work. Her most recent field placement was at Camp Ritsona, a refugee camp about an hour north of Athens, Greece.

At Ritsona, Maki met refugees from Arab countries, Kurds from Syria and Iraq, and refugees from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. “I was assigned to a female-friendly space,” Maki recalls. “I helped bring the different communities together. Their first permanent staff member had also just arrived. She and I bonded, and we worked together on building community, coming up with programming and creating a space where anyone could come any time.” Maki wishes to return to Ritsona after graduation, this time for a full year.

Coming into Ritsona, Maki had already negotiated many cultures. She left her native Japan at 13 to attend a private international high school in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India. She earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, graduating in the year of the Tōhoku earthquake. In the wake of that disaster, her parents wanted her home for a while. She returned to her birthplace, Nasushiobara City, about a hundred miles north of Tokyo, and worked in a social welfare office supporting people with disabilities. She then worked at a deaf school in Rwanda through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a Tokyo-based governmental agency similar to the Peace Corps.

The Olivia P. Maynard Children and Family Fellowship, including matching funds from the Ann and Robert Lurie Family Foundation, made a difference for Maki, she says, “The fellowship has helped me greatly. Being an international student, I am not eligible for federal loans or work-study positions at U-M, nor am I allowed to take off-campus jobs. The fellowship has taken a huge load off my shoulders, and I am very thankful.”

At the School of Social Work, Maki studied with Assistant Professor Odessa Gonzalez Benson, who works with local refugee communities and refugee-led organizations. Maki is now involved in ongoing research with Gonzalez Benson, examining obstacles that Congolese refugee youth face pursuing educational opportunities in the United States.

“This work inspires me, as Ritsona inspired me,” Maki says. “I see how much work still needs to be done. In my career I want to work internationally in the hope of turning this into a borderless world.”

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