Looking Back, Looking Forward

Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHFrom the Director

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of leading a delegation of social workers to Egypt. It was my first visit to a country that I had wanted to visit since childhood. The intrigue of the pyramids and the Great Sphinx, the content of biblical stories and novels, and even B-grade movies all added to the allure over the years.

The experience of actually being in Egypt far exceeded any expectations I held. Seeing Cairo and the Nile River from our airplane was the first thrill, but there were so many thrilling experiences during our time in Egypt that it is hard to choose a single event or location to highlight.

We were warmly received by our social work colleagues and their agencies and organizations. As I have found on other international trips, there is a professional bond among social workers. Our values and our vision of a just and equitable world are the same everywhere.

Likewise, the social problems our countries face vary mainly by degree. There never seem to be adequate resources to care for the sick and the poor. There are marginalized populations and forgotten people. Wars continue to cause suffering and natural disasters continue to bring destruction. Yet one can witness a resiliency of the human spirit, the goodness of individuals and the care of communities around the world.

What was different about Egypt, though, was the length of its history — its longevity. We saw temples that took 2,300 years to build and a boat that was more than 4,000 years old. In this modern world of fast foods, instant messaging and information at our fingertips, we forget that in many parts of the world, much remains relatively unchanged. Religious beliefs, cultural mores and social customs have stood the test of time — of millennia, not centuries.

This month we move into a new decade, the second decade of a new century. Intellectually, we know these are insignificant milestones in the continuum of time and history, but in the United States we tend to see the first of January as a demarcation, a line dividing the past year from the future. We say "Happy New Year" and we look forward to a new start.

Other cultures use different calendars and different dates for their new year, but the sentiment is the same. I hope each of you will take some time this month to look back — to celebrate your successes and your achievements both personally and professionally during the past year. I also hope you will look at the coming year and redouble your efforts to help make your communities, this nation and the world a better place for all people. All of us at the NASW national headquarters send you our best wishes for 2010.