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Friday
Oct282011

We all have our own Ministry: Wisdoms from a luncheon at the UN

“We all have our own ministry.”

That was the wisdom of the Honorable Felix Ortiz, New York State Assemblyman, learned from his father.  I love that message.  We all serve others in our own way, with our own skills.  It reminds me of Martin Luther King’s famous saying that if you are a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.

Ortiz, chair of the Mental Health Committee and Puerto-Rican/Hispanic Task Force in the state assembly, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon I attended October 27th at the United Nations delegates dining room, sponsored by the American Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation (AAPR).  One reason I went is because I have worked with AAPR colleagues, since they are an NGO affiliated at the UN, like my NGO, the International Association of Applied Psychology, for which I am the main UN rep.

“We have to think out of the box,” said the congressman, using another phrase I\that I consider wise. I love that phrase.  I always recommend that people, and couples, be creative in their lives. 

The assemblyman, a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic Legislative Caucus, also noted that to improve mental health systems, we have to achieve cultural competency, including to overcome linguistic problems.  Fortunately, the government has mandated that every agency that provides services needs to have staff who speak different languages. We also have to identify problems early, to get them into the system (like in cases of autism), taking a more long-term view.

On other matters, he noted the need to re-distribute financial waste, utilize webcasts, and be ready for women in the armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another reason I went to the luncheon was to meet in person the President of the World Psychiatric Association, Dr. Pedro Ruiz, who was being honored with the Irving Blumberg Human Rights Award (pictured with me in the photo). 

  

I've had a long-time association with WPA, on the board of the Disaster Section and meeting with colleagues in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo. I gave him a copy of our book, Intervention in Destabilizing Situations: Crises and Traumas (published in Rio de Janeiro by Associação Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 2009) and edited by my friends Brazilian psychiatrists Jose Thome and Iveley Taralli and Argentinian psychiatrist Moty Benyakar.  The book is an interesting multi-cultural tome with articles mostly in Portugese and Spanish. My article in English is “Communication and media in mass trauma: How mental health professionals can help.” Another article in English is “Spirituality, Religion and Resilience Promotion in Resilience Trauma” by Australian psychiatrist Russell D’Souza.

Dr. Ruiz was presented his award by his good friend, psychiatrist Dr. Humberto L. Martinez, who has spent 32 years serving in the South Bronx.  I found it fascinating that he remembered my being on TV news from decades ago, from recognizing my eyes!

“The eyes are windows to the soul,” he said wisely. We traced that keen attention to his being in the armed forces, after being drafted from his native Puerto Rico. As an army brat, I could relate.

Yet another valuable wisdom from that afternoon was the phrase:  “A sandwich and conversation.”

That’s a good way for friends to offer their friendship and consolation.  It’s the approach of “Project Help” described by founder Sam Tsemberis, when volunteers cruised the streets of New York in a van looking for homeless people and offering them help (food, shelter, personal connection). It reminds me of the approach we used as mental health volunteers after 9/11 when we walked around the pit of Ground Zero offering the rescue workers water, apples, gloves and an opportunity to talk if they wanted.  It is also my approach in disasters that I applied in Haiti right after the earthquake there, where I trained students to be “comforters” offering the injured people lying on hospital grounds water and comforting words. 

So think about, what is my own ministry?  How can I think out opf the box?  To whom can I offer a sandwich and ocnversation?

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