Social work is a professional discipline committed to the pursuit of social welfare, social change and social justice through interventions and practice aimed at improving the quality of life of individuals, groups and communities in a society.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu is credited as one of the greatest social worker of the 20th century. She was born in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, in1910. She lost her father at a tender age of eight years. She was eighteen years old when she joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dublin, Ireland. As a requirement of becoming a nun of the Catholic Church, she was given the name Sister Mary Teresa. After training for six months, Teresa was sent to Calcutta India as a high school teacher. She took her initial vows as a nun in 1931 and later in 1937; she took her final vows thus taking the title Mother Teresa. The whole world knew her with this name. She taught St. Mary's High School in Calcutta for almost fifteen years where she rose to become the principal of the school.
During her time as a teacher, the poor state of life of the people living within the neighborhoods of the school as well as the slums and streets of Calcutta deeply perturbed her. In 1946, during the annual retreat she felt a strong ‘call within a call’ of Jesus asking her to come out of the walls ‘Coventry’ and serve the downtrodden people in the society. This formed the basis of her mission to serve the poor among the poor. For instance, the starving, the bare, the street dwellers , the blind, the lepers, the sick and the terminally ill, those who were neglected by their families as well as the society in general, those who were considered a burden to the society and shunned by everyone.
She heeded to this call and in 1948, with permission from her superiors, she left the Coventry and embarked on the task of serving the underprivileged slum dwellers in Calcutta. Her first year in social work was so challenging that she wished to goback to the comfort of the Coventry. Despite the challenge of limited funds, it is her desire to bring a difference to the lives of the destitute that kept her going. Her first project was an open-air school for slum children. Later on volunteers joined in and she received more financial assistance. With increased funding, Mother Teresa was able to expand the scope of her social service in the slums of Calcutta beyond teaching alone. She later learnt some basic medication techniques so that she could treat the poor who could not manage to pay for medication (Greene, 2004).
In 1950, she influenced some of the alumni of St. Mary's High School to form a charity group and called it ‘Missionaries of Charity’. Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the terminally ill in 1952. She would pick them from the streets and bring them to the hospice. There she would give them free medical attention and the opportunity to die feeling loved and dignified. The service inspired more people to come together for the noble foundation and donate funds for the charity group working under Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa later on opened a home for leprosy victims. The Missionaries of Charity also started a number of leprosy outreach clinics all over Calcutta, which were giving medicine, bandages and food to patients free of charge. With the expansion of the Missionaries of Charity, they took in an increasing numbers of homeless and orphaned children. It therefore became necessary to create a home for them. This came to reality in 1955, when the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart was opened, as a place of refuge for orphans and homeless youths.
The missionary of charity soon began to catch the attention of many people all over the world. This inspired many to volunteer for the charity work and it received more donations from all over the world. By the 1960s, she was operating several hospices, children orphanages and leper houses in various towns throughout India. She then expanded her missionnaries of charity throughout the whole world. The first center was in Venezuela in 1965 and later in Rome, Tanzania, and Austria in 1968. The Missionaries of Charity received official recognition as an International Association, on March 29, 1969. During the 1970s, the mission opened centers and foundations in several countries in Africa, United States, Europe and the Asia.
Mother Teresa made use of the donations, her own money from various international awards she received and thousands of missionary volunteers who had joined her mission, for the establishment of several centers for the destitute and needy people across the globe. Among her most noteworthy works was the establishment of center for HIV/ AIDS patients in 1985, sheltering thousands of patients were neglected and stigmatized by the society.
She also co-founded other missionaries of charity within the Catholic Church organization such as the missionaries of charity for; Brothers, Sisters, Fathers and Priests to try to bring everybody onboard in charity work. She also founded lay missionaries of charity that brought onboard non-Catholics to her charity work. Her missionaries of charity expanded and by the time of her death, her order was operating over 600 missions in 123 countries. The scope of their social work also expanded to include services such as; hospices and centers for people living with HIV/AIDS, lepers and tuberculosis patients, food kitchens, counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.
Although her mission started in India, she succeeded in bringing the people of all societies together in harmony, by serving them without any discrimination. By devoting her life to the service of the destitute, Mother Teresa became a global image for selfless service to humanity with love and kindness. She distinguished herself as the symbol of peace, love and compassion for humanity. This made the former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to refer to her as the United Nations and the peace in the world.