My $100,000 diploma may read ‘social work’ but at Education and Hope I am not the social worker. Our social worker calls herself by many names; accountant, community member, cousin, sister, and friend. Her name is Lorena. I think of her as the lifeblood of the program. If the program were a body she would be the heart and the blood that pumps through it.

She has a way with words. Not because of what she says but how she says it. You can see in her eyes that her sentiment is real—she looks into your spirit. She never wants to leave the project and I don’t think she ever will. This is her casita and her presence makes it home for everyone who walks through the front gate. Even when I spoke no Spanish she was able to communicate with me. Though love and hand gestures. I assume it feels the same for the students at the project. Even though they can speak with her in their native tongue I now see that they are learning to communicate in a new language—communicating about emotions and their lived experiences. These things are often kept hidden away, a secret. She isn’t only the heart but also the mouth that helps the children give words to what they are experiencing. The ears that patiently wait to hear. The eyes that witness the pain and joy of those difficult moments. Lorena is the real social worker.

I walk into her office to see her applying lotion to the faces of two young sisters. When they arrived to the program their skin resembled cracks in a dry dessert horizon. But it wasn’t the way in which this lotion magically brought life back into their faces that amazed me. It was the way Lorena looked at the students as she applied the cream. Vice versa, the way the students looked at her. Their eyes averted the glaze of most people but with Lore this was not the case. They closed their eyes and smile with only their lips. Slightly peeping open to look at her as she lovingly takes care of them. One sister waits with a goofy grin on her face in anticipation of her time with Lore. It was in this moment that I realized Lorena is the real social worker.

Moments like these remind me that real social work is about loving wholeheartedly and building genuine relationships. I wish to have my students one day know that I care for them as much as she clearly cares for every student in the project. I have learned so much in my time at Education and Hope, a lot of which Lorena has taught me. She inspires me by the way she loves her job. In the way she greets the students. In the ways in which the students talk about and admire her. I aspire to one day be the same caliber of social worker as Lorena.

 

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