Service Learning

Winter: Rutgers- Social Welfare, Healthcare Delivery, and Community Engagement in Sonagachi, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Kolkata, India

Program Overview

Term Start Date End Date Application Deadline
Winter 2025
Jan 03, 2025
Jan 19, 2025
Oct 01, 2024
Language(s) of Instruction
Class Standing
Good Academic Standing

This program is specifically for Master's of Social Work students. It is designed as a 3 credit course. Public Health and Psychology students may apply but priority will be given to Social Work graduate students. 

Travel on January 3, hotel check-in January 5th. Return on January 18th.

Program Type
Service Learning


Program Advisor

The Program

Come learn about community-based interventions that aim to provide healthcare services and empower the vulnerable populations of sex workers and children in Sonagachi, India. Immerse yourself in the community-developed organizations, learn about community based interventions, collective support, and study with professionals in the field to learn about the historical impact of the sociopolitical climate on the function of the cooperative approach in Sonagachi.

Program Locations

Street Art



Sonagachi, known as one of Asia’s largest red-light districts, is located in the heart of northern Kolkata, India. Consisting of nearly 10,000 sex workers and their children, Sonagachi was developed by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee by Dr. Smarajit Jana in 1992, as a way to reduce the spread of STIs -particularly, HIV- and empower sex workers. Now predominantly run by the sex workers that reside there, Sonagachi has developed into an independent cooperative with supportive resources to assist sex workers in maintaining their independence.


As part of this program, students will learn about the historical impacts of the sociopolitical and economic climate on a vulnerable population of sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata, India. Students will learn about community development interventions through direct engagement with sex workers and their children, and will be provided opportunities to compare social work practice strategies utilized in the United States and India through professional lectures. As part of their course requirements, students will complete several pre- and post-departure tasks including a final paper and mandatory readings, as well as maintaining a personal journal throughout their stay.

This program is specifically for Master's of Social Work students. It is designed as a 3 credit course. Students interested in earning field credits for 2 weeks (45 hours) should discuss with their advisors. 

To see the course syllabus for winter 2023 click here.

Assignments for course: 

  1. Pre-departure Orientation: A required orientation will be held to review travel information and logistics, information about India and Kolkata, identify key learning objectives and personal reasons for participating, and group exercises to introduce each other and prepare for the group learning experience.  Study Abroad will also provide pre-departure information about health and safety and other required travel information as needed. 
  2. Pre-Departure Group Discussion: Participation in an ongoing discussion on Canvas prior to the trip to Kolkata. The discussion is focused on the course material that provides foundational understanding of the sociopolitical and economic context of the population being studied. The material will address empowerment through community-based interventions, promoting collectivism and capacity building, which is the overall theme and title of the India Study Abroad Program.  There are readings in Canvas on Community Engagement that will be useful for reflection and analysis of our experiences, and the programs that are being visited.
  3. Journal:  Travel Journal or Travel Blog to be submitted to the instructor by January 31, 2023.  You are required to keep a travel journal that you organize in a way that works best for you. Journaling is a very private thing. You may find that you write every day, or you may decide to write once every 2-3 days, but in more detail.  Some students prefer to combine writing and scrapbooking.  It’s up to you to do what works best.  There is no right way or wrong way to keep a journal.  The instructor will keep your journal contents confidential! It will be shared only if you decide you want it to be shared.
  4. Final Paper (8-10 pages) & Presentation (5-10 minutes): This is a paper that you will write that will provide the instructor with the opportunity to evaluate how well you achieved selected course objectives through a research-guided assignment. The paper will be accompanied by a 5-10-minute presentation shared during the debriefing session. The final paper is to be uploaded in canvas. The final paper is due on January 31, 2023. Guidelines for the final assignment are provided in a separate document.
  5. Post-Program Debrief and Reflections on Learning Goals and Experiences: A required post-program reflection meeting will be held 2-4 weeks after the program to reflect on learning experiences, the program structure and information, as well as the learning community experiences.  This group reflection will go through a series of questions that will guide the reflections that will also include how each student can apply their learning in their own practice here in the US.  Future aspirations will also be discussed.

Housing and Meals

Students will be housed in shared rooms at a hotel in Jatin Das Park, Kolkata, throughout the duration of their stay. All students will be provided with an orientation dinner on their day of arrival and a farewell dinner on the night before their departure. Students will be responsible for purchasing all other meals throughout their stay.

Financial Information

Program Costs

This is the billed amount that will appear on your Rutgers term bill during the term you study abroad.
NJ Resident non-NJ Resident
Undergraduate $2,020 $2,410
Graduate $2,270 $2,640
Program Cost includes:
  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Excursions
  • Administrative Fees
  • Emergency Medical Access Abroad

* The winter session student fee is not included in the program cost above.

Out-of-Pocket Costs

These are estimated expenses that are not part of your term bill. Students will need to pay for these expenses out-of-pocket.
Airfare $2,000
Meals $150
E-visa $60
Personal Expenses $100
Total $2,310.00
Out-of-Pocket Cost includes:

The above costs are estimations and represent the known out-of-pocket costs students encounter during their time abroad.

Some of these expenses will be paid for prior to going abroad, such as an airline ticket, while some of these expenses, such as meals and personal expenses, will be paid in-country as part of your daily expenses. As you plan, you will need to budget these costs and spend wisely throughout your time abroad.

Faculty Leaders

Rupa M. Khetarpal

Rupa M. Khetarpal is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University, School of Social Work. She has nearly 20 years of practice experience with survivors of trauma, both domestic and international including Africa, South Asia, Middle East, Balkan, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Her clinical practice has included working with survivors of torture, human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual violence and gender-based violence. She has also worked extensively on developing cross cultural competencies within various systems in responding to trauma survivors in New Jersey. She currently manages the MSW Violence Against Women and Children Certificate Program (VAWC-CP), that offers specialized education through the Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers University. She received her Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) from the Rutgers School of Social Work.

Rupa was the former Director of the Cross Cultural Counseling Center, a mental health services program for refugees and immigrants at the International Institute of New Jersey. She previously served as a psychosocial consultant with Doctors Without Borders/Medicene` Sans Frontiers (MSF) providing psychosocial support to the humanitarian aid workers. Rupa is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the Rutgers School of Social Work, and her research focuses on refugee mental health, trauma and resilience.

Catherine Buttner

Catherine Buttner, MSW, is the Senior Coordinator for Community Engagement at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at the Rutgers School of Social Work and is a Doctoral Candidate focusing on minority women’s experiences of exclusion through dominant reproductive health narratives in the United States. Ms. Buttner has been involved with research in the areas of post-colonial social work, sexual exploitation, sex work, gender-based violence, and women’s reproductive health for more than a decade. She has assisted various community organizations in branding, marketing, and communicating their work more effectively. Ms. Buttner has expertise in the areas of violence against women, racism in the maternal andreproductive health care system, program evaluation, creative research dissemination, community and professional trainings, and connecting research to practice.