Feb. 28, 2024

UCalgary student’s long journey to social work profession leads from Ghana to Edmonton

Eve Xeflide juggles motherhood and an academic passion to learn how spirituality influences culture and people’s daily living
A woman in a brightly coloured head wrpa and prange tshirt that says 'Every Child Matters' smiles at the camera
Eve Xeflide

During Black History Month, the Faculty of Social Work profiles famous Black Canadian changemakers who have made a national or historic impact on the country and, in some cases, the world. But many of our students and alum are making change and improving the lives of many every day, even if it’s not national or historical (yet!).

Today we profile Eve Xeflide, BSW ’23, a recent Bachelor of Social Work graduate from our faculty’s Edmonton campus who was skeptical of social work’s colonial agenda growing up in Ghana. In this profile Xeflide describes how she came around to the profession, and how she’s going to convince her mom that this is a good thing! 

Creating a rhythm for success

It was when everyone else was asleep, when silence lay like a thick quilt over her home that Eve Xeflide went to work; 3 to 6 a.m. were her golden hours when her three young kids — and the rest of the world — were still asleep. An uninterrupted chance to dive into her Bachelor of Social Work studies, readings, reflections and assignments. 

“A professor asked me to share my experience in one of his classes,” says Xeflide, “and I was telling them that, of course, I tried to be organized, but I also created a rhythm that worked for me. I made the program mine. I told them just create your own path and create your routine; find your rhythm, and work with it. I found the professors in the social work faculty to be super flexible, and super approachable.” 

Social work in Ghana

It would be fair to say that Xeflide’s younger self would likely have been amazed to find her in the frozen tundra of Edmonton, and even more surprised that she would be graduating with a social work degree. Her mom still isn’t over that fact! 

Xeflide comes from sunny Ghana, where her family still lives. She earned her bachelor’s in sociology and religious studies and says (to say the least) that social work was never on her radar.

“So, people really don't encourage their children to go into that profession,” she says. “We used to make fun of classmates at the university, I would make fun of classmates who were in social work and joke, ‘We cannot teach them!’ Right?” 

Xeflide explains that the low opinion for social work in Ghana, reflects themes familiar to Canadian social workers. Ghanian social workers were seen as colonizing agents of the state, breaking up Indigenous families, where the concept of family is related to a much broader understanding of family than the westernized “nuclear family” approach. 

“If the parents die, and you bring in social workers, you are disrupting the extended family structure,” Xeflide explains. “An auntie or uncle cannot assume that parental role. They have to go through the legal system, go through a process, have paperwork and all that. Most uncles and aunties aren't willing to do that. So, then the child ends up being taken away from the family.”

The idea of an extended community — an extended family — feels foreign to a lot of Canadians, and Xeflide says she still misses that sense of communal living, where people don’t set up supervised “playdates.” Kids just go out and have fun. Since her single mother struggled financially, having the extended care of the community was also a safety net. 

“You didn't have to let your neighbour know that you're coming to visit,” she says, “you can just pop over, and they will feed you. You always could go to a neighbour's house and get something to eat. And did I mention the snow part? No snow.”

Findings a space for religion in modern medicine 

Her pathway to a snowier future likely began with her academic interests, focused on how spirituality influences culture and impacts people’s daily living. For example, the implications of when people view illness as a physical manifestation of a spiritual ailment leading them to visit the pastor, instead of the doctor. By the time they are actually seen by a physician they’re often too sick for treatment. Similarly, patients may be sneaking traditional remedies in the hospital that can decrease the efficacy of the drugs they’re given. 

As Xeflide points out, these cultural beliefs often go back generations, so you can’t simply tell people to stop doing them. A better solution, she says, is to create a space where people feel safe about sharing their spiritual approaches with their doctor. 

“So, with my social work background now, my approach is to say, ‘What you’re doing now (spiritual approach) is okay. We want to continue doing that. But what do you think about this? Can we add this step to what you're doing now, and see if it works?’ So that whatever was handed down to you over generations is still there. And most times when you work with them that way, they do well. They do better than before.”

After completing her Master of Philosophy in Ghana, Xeflide accepted a scholarship to Florida International University to pursue a master’s degree, studying how culture and religion impact post-migration Ghanian communities in their new homes. Along the way she discovered that all of North America isn’t freezing, as she was led to believe, and, more important, was introduced to the Canadian who would become her future husband. The man who would take her to a place that was, in fact, often freezing, most of the time.

Home in the frozen North

After relocating in Edmonton, Xeflide started a hybrid PhD program at UAlberta in anthropology and religious studies. It was during that time that her opinion of social work began to change. At a conference in the U.S. she took in a social worker’s presentation on her work with immigrant communities. For Xeflide, who equated social work with child welfare, it was a revelation. 

“Being able,” she says, “to combine the research aspect of social work to the community services they provide was really fascinating.” 

She researched the profession and after she was convinced, discovered that with her degree she could complete her mostly online Bachelor of Social Work degree at UCalgary’s Edmonton campus in just three years. She was determined to do that, regardless of the fact that she had two young children, with another one on the way, and a husband who was mostly working in B.C. at the time with no daycare or external supports. No problem, right? 

Well maybe a few problems! Eve’s youngest was due to be born on June 16, so she crammed two courses into the spring semester, to create time in the summer to look after her newborn. Unfortunately, her son didn’t get the itinerary, and he came 10 days early, four days before she was scheduled to submit an important oral presentation. 

“Two days after giving birth, I had him on the bed, breastfeeding, and getting my audio presentation recorded,” she says with a chuckle, “During my recording he didn't make a sound! So, that was a fun experience. I was really grateful because God gave me a sleeping baby. Once he's fed, he will sleep through the night. So that was what got me through.”

What’s next?

As it turns out, taking her degree with three young children and navigating things like breastfeeding during online classes was the easy part. Convincing her mother about social work was another thing entirely. 

“I continue having very fun, interesting conversations with my mom when it comes to the profession. She still doesn't think that it's worth it. I always let her know what I do, and how I'm contributing to the society, and she and the family are okay, in a way, but I can tell they still think, ‘If you come home, what are our friends going to say and all that?’ Which doesn’t worry me at all.” 

Xeflide says one day she might like to go back to Ghana and be part of the solution. But for right now, she says she’s looking forward to simply working and being a mom and, hopefully, getting used to sleeping in a little later than 3 a.m. 

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