Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Praise of Social Workers

This is in Praise and Thanks of All Social Workers and
Irena Sendlerowa, (aka Sendler), 1910 - 2008
Social Workers often have a negative public image. This is in part because they are often the source of separating children from their families. This is not the “fault” of the social worker. It is an option of last resort to remove a child from their family home. It is not taken lightly. However, when a child is at risk, it must be done. The brave women and men that have this task are social workers. In my mind, they are all heros.

The other part of why the negative image continues is because they don't have a good public relations director. No one speaks for them, takes their side or backs them up. Its much more fun and "interesting" to find and report on the bad examples than those that do a great job and save lives.

This article is my little attempt at tipping those scales. Tipping them in favour of social workers.

A group of Kansas high school kids also tipped those scales in favour of social workers. They undertook to find out about a Polish social worker hero of World War II, Irena Sendlerowa. They wrote and produced a play called “Life In A Jar” about this social worker. Their work was then used as the basis for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler”, televised on April 19, 2009.

There is now a biography of Ms. Sendlerowa’s life and her heroic efforts saving the Warsaw children. It was written and published in Poland in 2004.

Ms. Sendloerowa's story is a glorious one, especially given that she did not take all the credit for what she helped accomplish. She claimed that saving the children was a team effort and that she simply did per part.

Irena Sendlerowa was a Polish Catholic social worker in Warsaw during World War II. She was one of the visionaries that saw the writing on the wall, and started a campaign to take Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and place them with Polish families, orphanages and monasteries. She worked with the Zegota (Council to Aid the Jews) to provide 2,500 children with new identities and to keep them safe. Ms. Sendlerowa kept the true details of the children in glass jars buried in her friend’s garden.

When the war was over, Ms. Sendlerowna dug up the glass jars from the garden, and helped to re-unite the children with their families. Many of the parents died at the Treblinka death camp. There is no doubt that the children she helped to rescue would have had a similar fate.

Ms. Sendlerowa faced many risks and was eventually captured by the German Nazi’s. She was tortured and sentenced to death. Ms. Sendlerowa managed to escape with the help of the resistance (the Zegota) and remained in hiding for the rest of the war.

That was not the end of the story for this brave woman. Ms. Sendlerowa was persecuted again by the Polish communist government. She was sentenced to death again, and saved again. Her story could not be told until recently for fear of further persecution.

One of the most poignant facts about this heroic lady was her insistence that she did not do this work alone. She said that it could not have happened without the help of the other people working with her to save the children. She was the co-ordinator, but all of them were essential.

Ms. Sendlerowna has been honoured by the International Federation of Social Workers. She received the Order of the White Eagle from Poland, and is an honorary citizen of Israeland. The Israeli Yad Vashem institute honored Sendlerowa with the Righteous Among the Nations medal. There is now an Irena Sendler Award for “Healing the World”.

Kansas has dedicated March 10 as Irena Sendler Day

There are rumours that Ms. Sendlerowa was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but “lost out” to Al Gore and the Climate Change Panel. However, these are only rumours. Nobel Prize nominees are not revealed for 50 years after their consideration. So, we won’t know this for another 48 years. Nobel Peace Prize Awards are not given posthumously.

What can you do?

When you say your daily prayers or meditations, or you need help with a child, any kind of help, ask Irena Sendlerowa to pray on your behalf. It is a kindly way to remember her heroic and humble feats, and help you as well.

You can also help to spread the word about social workers generally. They really are a good lot. Theirs is a difficult job, but our society is better for it.