Happy New Year!
In Scotland, where I live, the main celebration at this time of year is Hogmanay. It takes us from the old year to the new. Christmas was not a public holiday in Scotland until 1958. Historically there has been a clear separation between governance of the State and religious institutions. At the bells we join hands in a circle and sing Auld Lang Syne, since adopted across the world, a song of reflection and renewal http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/auld_lang_syne/ .
The tradition of ‘first footing’ involves visiting friends and neighbours, with a gift – a piece of coal for the fire, shortbread and black bun for the table and whisky ….. all after the bells. Throughout the night people wish their neighbours luck for the coming year. The tall dark stranger as your ‘first foot’ is seen as a particularly good omen for the coming year.
In my own reflections I have been contemplating the place this ritual has in community building – the universality of welcoming of the stranger, the sharing of warmth, food and drink. We all have our cultural traditions as the seasons dictate the natural timescales for reflection and renewed resolve. During this period I was listening to a radio interview with Dr David Nott, a Consultant Surgeon in London, who works for Médecins Sans Frontières and the British Red Cross for several months a year. His most recent work was in Aleppo in Syria. The interview that was broadcast on the BBC on 23 December was one of the most profound I have ever heard http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-30576940 . As a veteran of many war torn areas he has experienced communities that have eventually learnt to live together and rebuild communities. In this interview you can hear how his humanitarian vision has been challenged. He has tried to get politicians to hear that fuelling wars with weapons of mass destruction does nothing for the peace of the world. He has seen the horror of the remains of adults and children, the innocent victims of the struggle for power and control. For every ten people brought to the hospital they were able to help only one or two; but then they too might die due to lack of resources for care through the recovery stage. He worked in basements of hospitals with bombs shaking the foundations; these being what remains of the hospitals that had been so recently built but now destroyed. His despair was profound. He contrasted the media attention on Gaza compared with the lack of media visibility for Syria. He understood that without the media attention the politicians were choosing not to hear the cries for help.
However there was one glimmer of hope, Dr Nott’s visit to the frontline in Syria, to a Catholic community caring for older people with the help of their Muslim neighbours. This is where he saw the importance of investing in communities. He talked about investment in the positive side of humanity. This was the message he tried to give to politicians back in London. This was complemented by hearing of the Christian communities in Sierra Leone supporting their Muslim neighbours and friends through Ebola, using the same buildings for support and sharing their strengths to help the weak. The reality is that long lasting change does not come through the sticking plaster of humanitarian aid but through building on the humanity of friends and neighbours supporting each other in strong communities. This was evidenced in the work done in Asia – for example the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan following cataclysmic natural disasters.
In the last year IFSW has underlined all its work with the principle of peace and self-determination. It is the pre-cursor to our ten year work plan in The Global Agenda – our contribution as social workers to increasing global knowledge about what works – helping politicians, the media, our communities understand how social work is one of the skill sets that help build sustainable social communities.
Our next chapter in the Global Agenda focuses on the dignity and respect of each person. This is not only about how we regard others but how people feel within themselves – are they part of the community in which they live? Are they cared for within their socially just communities or do they live in the shadows, physically, mentally and emotionally?
How many potential social workers have you heard at interview say ‘I want to be a social worker, I want to make a difference?’ For those chosen to take this journey we know the long hard road through study and working with people to make that difference. It takes us to places of privilege where not many people are admitted, the innermost depths of people’s experiences, often traumatic, often still being relived on a daily basis by unintended actions of others.
This year’s World Social Work Day poster features a number of placards, one of which reads “Freeing Silenced Voices”. The voices of many people are silenced because others fail or choose not to hear. One of the tasks that social workers throughout the decades have done is help people find their voices and joined in the clamour to be heard about the inequalities and abuses the people with whom we work have had to endure, silenced by those in power and control.
The proposal that I would invite all social workers throughout the world to adopt in the New Year is the resolution to work together to break down the wall between those who need to be heard and those who often do not hear who exercise power and control through the governance of our societies. We must work with the people who use our services to tell the stories, the experiences of people, to help others understand that the UN Declaration of Human Rights will only be achieved in a world that has eliminated the feelings of inadequacy that feed jealousy and hatred that lead to war. People who live in what they consider a socially just society do not resort to extremes of behaviour towards each other.
Investment in humanity will lead to a peaceful world, it will be built on respecting the dignity and worth of all people, it will go beyond the boundaries of religions and political ideologies – it will lead to sustainable social development.
Let us make that journey to a peaceful and just world together!