When was the last time your employers did something special to honour the staff in your agency? Is there ever a time when formal recognition and tribute is given to the welfare services in your local area, state or province? It’s true that some agencies have started giving out annual bonus payments (rewarding some with money) while other agencies have created employee of the month awards, like at McDonalds. Interestingly enough, Syracuse University in New York give Hero of the Month awards for special achievements by general staff. But I’ve never seen the likes of Welfare Month in Sarawak, East Malaysia where, for the whole month of October, special events were held state-wide to celebrate the achievements of voluntary and state social welfare workers for their contributions to wellbeing in local communities.
The Closing Banquet Reception Line
It was my privilege to be invited to take part in the 2003 Sarawak Welfare Month celebrations and to learn first hand about how things are done differently in that part of the world. First there was the state Social Services Convention at Miri in the northern part of the state where delegates from across the voluntary social services sector came together for a two-day review of social welfare achievements during the past year and to look ahead towards challenges facing this sector in the coming year. Then I travelled to the state capital of Kuching for an international conference on the theme of Advancing Indigenous Social Work sponsored by the Ministry of Social Development & Urbanisation and the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). There, delegates from Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India, the United Arab Emirates and Africa explored challenges associated with knowledge and practices that address unique cultural issues in countries where Western concepts of help-giving don’t always work very well in addressing the needs of their populations.
Parents and Children Receiving Guests
Welfare month ended prior to the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan. The final celebratory event was the closing banquet and awards ceremony. Imagine for a moment that you were attending the cinema world's Academy Awards or Oscars ceremony, or the Emmy or Grammy Awards. The Annual Welfare Awards were given out at the end of the Welfare Month closing banquet in Sarawak, with nominees in five different categories: child care centres and nurseries; children's homes; residential schools; centres for the disabled; and elder care services. All the candidates “identified through nomination by members of the public from their local communities “were presented with special plaques by the Minister of Social Development & Urbanisation, YB Dato” Dr James Jemut Masing. Then winners were announced in each of the five categories with special commendations given for their achievements and contributions to social welfare in their respective communities.
Closing Ceremony singing “We are the children"
It was all quite amazing really. Certainly something I'll never forget. Its made me think a lot about just how do agencies, local communities, states, provinces or countries go about formally recognising and acknowledging the contributions made by the many unsung heroes and heroines who deliver community welfare services to the public? Or does it really matter? I think it does!