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What does your work entail, and why did you choose your profession?
Ana: I studied social education almost by accident, but it completely changed my way of thinking and perception of society. I have been working 10 years for a private company that provides social services in Madrid. My work is focused on families in which children are suffering from serious neglect or various forms of abuse.
Families come to us through different social agencies that know or suspect there may be serious problems in the family. I investigate the risk and vulnerability of the children and offer support as part of a multidisciplinary team offering psychological, social and educational care.
related article Living Beyond My Limitations by Abraham Uccello, USA While trying to understand the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism, Abraham Uccello was able to face his painful past and develop a sense of profound purpose. Sometimes, protecting children means separating them from their families. I must assess the possible impact of these decisions. In such cases, we also try to work on the problems so that the child can eventually be safely returned to their family.
Tina: My job and mission is to make life easier for people with disabilities and their relatives. This includes raising public understanding of mental disabilities.
I am a team leader responsible for a group of colleagues. We meet people of all ages with different conditions such as intellectual disability, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and acquired brain injury. We offer counseling, support and treatment. Most people who contact us are mothers of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
I also work in our unique library that houses some 4,000 books and films about different disabilities. We hold seminars for patients, their families and people working in the field.
During my three years of study at university to become a social worker, I had the opportunity to do an internship with a counselor. It was exciting, and I really enjoyed meeting patients and their families. That was when I realized I had made the right career choice.
What does a typical day at work consist of?
Tina: A day at work might involve offering counseling by phone or by e-mail, working in our library or holding exhibitions to provide information about our services. Sometimes I attend lectures and share what I have learned with my colleagues. We also spend a lot of time updating our websites and booklets with new information.
Ana: Every day for me is a challenge to support families and enable them to feel they can change the things that are causing them to suffer. I try to support them in discovering their power and create the awareness that they have the potential to change their lives and the lives of their children.
I conduct individual and family interviews. I visit people in their homes to get a sense of their day-to-day life. I try to establish a therapeutic bond with families, empathize with their feelings and let them know there are professionals who can assist them.
We also offer multifamily therapy groups where families get to see there are other families struggling with the same problems. In these groups, we foster interactions that help strengthen the relationship between parents and children.
What are the most satisfying and challenging aspects of your work?
Ana: What is most satisfying is when a family or a child, despite the harsh experiences they have suffered or are suffering, allows me to help them. When they recognize and accept the problem, they begin to become aware that they have the capacity to change their life.
My work is very difficult, emotionally. The economic crisis we are experiencing has a great impact on the welfare of these families, especially children.
Tina: What I really appreciate is listening to people and being able to give them advice, support and hope. It is important for me to do that with great respect.
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is a Soka Gakkai member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. When you are a social worker, it is easy to focus on your patients and forget about your own needs. Work can sometimes be stressful, but, at the same time, that is what makes my job inspiring and enjoyable. I find that if I take care of myself, I can take care of my patients better.
What social changes would you like to see that would have a positive impact on the issues you deal with in your job?
Tina: Difficulties in Sweden’s economic situation have increased tremendously in recent years, which have led to the denial of support to many people. I am afraid our society is becoming cold and unfriendly. I want to live in a society that believes every citizen is important and valuable and can contribute—a society of greater solidarity.
Ana: I would like to see social change that benefits individuals and that is focused on the welfare of society, rather than just politics. In recent years, especially, children are at risk not only because of the economic difficulties of their families but also because state and social institutions are failing them.
How does your outlook as a Buddhist help you relate to your clients with a sense of respect and equality?
Tina: Nichiren Buddhism has taught me that every person has Buddhahood and is beautiful. We just have to focus on seeing the Buddhahood in everyone; we have to listen with deep respect and try to understand how other people think about things. By practicing this Buddhism, I have gained courage to stand up for myself and others. I am also able to respect people and not be prejudiced toward their religion or way of life.
related article Practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Sake of the Community by Chan Siu Lun, Hong Kong Chan Sui Lun demonstrates how he has used Chinese medicine to help communities since the outbreak of SARS in 2003. Ana: Being Buddhist has helped me see that, despite the difficulties the families I work with have suffered, there is always the possibility for change. My Buddhist practice helps me believe in them and their potential to overcome their inner negativity. It also helps me encourage families that have the potential to overcome life’s difficulties and not to be defeated by them.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has spoken about how the path of self-improvement is a continual process that never ends. He encourages us to continue striving toward new goals, step-by-step, while seeking to develop ourselves. Sometimes, change happens very slowly and seems minimal, but I must not forget that it is still a step forward and advancement toward a goal.
What has doing your job taught you about life?
Ana: I have learned from my experience of working with so many different families that inner strength and constant effort can enable us to transform any bad situation. Despite the difficulties we may face at any point in time, everyone has the potential to change and create a life where they can feel happy and good about themselves. My work is always worth the effort and profoundly gratifying. I am grateful to think that through my work I can help build a cohesive, more caring society.
Tina: My job has taught me that you really have to try and be happy and grateful every day! You never know when you or your loved ones may fall ill. An accident can happen anytime, and in a second, you wake up and need other people around you to get by. I also learned that you can never judge a person by how they look and that you always have to stay curious!
Courtesy April 2015 issue of the SGI Quarterly.