Colleen Fitzgerald

Colleen Fitzgerald

Colleen Fitzgerald

Child Protection Case Management Coaching Program
International Rescue Committee


Reflecting from her home in Beirut, Lebanon, Colleen Fitzgerald can say
definitively that getting rejected from Jesuit Volunteers International
was a blessing in disguise. “I think that actually the best thing for
me and the way I developed myself professionally was through my
domestic JV placement” as a case manager at a San Diego domestic
violence shelter, Fitzgerald said. “It built my skills as a case manager
and then when I started working internationally I think it helped that I
was a more experienced professional.”

“The idea of faith in action was also really inspiring to me,” she said.
“I was talking about all these things in the classroom while studying
political science and human rights and public service. I really wanted to
put those ideas in action and that led me to Jesuit Volunteer Corps.”

After JVC, she moved to Boston to work in a residential substanceabuse
treatment program for a year and then enrolled at Boston College
for a master’s degree in social work. The school offers a unique global
practice program. “I still had this dream of working internationally and
there were points when I didn’t think it would amount to anything but
I still wanted to give it a shot,” she said. “I loved social work and it is so
closely aligned with the values promoted through JVC.”

She started an international internship in Jordan in January 2011, at the
dawn of the Arab Spring with democratic uprisings throughout the
Middle East. Following the internship with the International Medical
Corps, the agency offered her a job working in Libya during the country’s
Arab Spring and subsequent violent conflict. During her year and a half
there, Fitzgerald helped develop a child protection program that was part of
the emergency response to the conflict.

She moved to Lebanon in August 2013, where she now works with
the International Rescue Committee, training child protection social
workers who work mainly with Lebanon’s Palestinian and Syrian refugee
communities. Lebanon’s population is 4 million; 1.5 million are refugees and
about half of the refugee community are children.

“Rather than direct assistance to refugees we are trying to build capacity for
the local communities so they can support vulnerable children; especially
refugees,” she said. “We transmit best practice standards set at the global
level and coach and mentor social workers here.”

Fitzgerald does not directly counsel refugees through the nationwide Child
Protection Case Management Coaching Program. She travels throughout
Lebanon training social workers from organizations including the Lebanese
Ministry of Social Affairs, United Nations agencies and various NGOs in a
job she calls “really, really rewarding.” The ultimate goal is the protection of
Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian children and families.

“I counsel social workers to really improve their skills so they can support
the area for the long term,” she said. “It’s much better this way. We talk a lot
about sustainability and how we can improve their system.”

Her alma mater, the Boston College School of Social Work, awarded her with
its 2015 Distinguished Recent Alumni Award for her work abroad. Pursuing
meaningful work in a place where the needs is very great, Fitzgerald is
exactly where she wants to be. For that she credits the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.