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The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) announces the Friends of Chernobyl Centers U.S., Inc. (FOCCUS, INC) as the 2003 recipient of the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award.

Washington-- The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASWF) is pleased to name FOCCUS, INC as the winner of the 2003 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award. FOCCUS, INC - composed of social workers, psychologists, and educators-was originally founded to support community centers, set up by the United Nations Chernobyl Program in Kiev, serving populations and communities in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia that were severely affected by the disaster. Through education and outreach programs, FOCCUS, INC also works to raise public awareness in the United States of the devastating human consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The centers are responsible for providing psychosocial support to individuals and groups comprised of local residents, evacuees, and the people who cleaned the area after the accident.  They are also responsible for developing the capacity of communities for problem solving and coping with crisis.  FOCCUS, INC has primarily influenced the training and education of the 130 social workers and other mental health providers who staff the community centers.  In 2002, these staff members provided services to people who paid more than 164,000 visits to the community centers. 

From left: Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH, President, NASW Foundation, Executive Director, NASW; Kay Smith, MSW; Richard Darling, DDS; Donna Ulteig, ACSW, DCSW; Norma Berkowitz, President, Friends of Chernobyl Center, U.S. Inc. (FOCCUS); Gary Bailey, MSW, President, NASW.

Despite the fact that the accident happened 17 years ago, it continues to have a negative impact on many people still residing in the region, as well as those affected by the disaster.  Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair are common among the millions affected.  Training provided by FOCCUS, INC focuses on the basic elements of social work practice-values, ethics, process, roles, and outcomes-and explores social work interventions with individuals, families, and groups, as well as approaches to community work. 

On April 26, 1986 a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl created a tragic nuclear accident-the only nuclear accident in history where radiation related fatalities occurred-affecting more than eight million people.  This accident contaminated approximately 100,000 square miles, including parts of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.  More than three million people are still living on contaminated land, and the immediate and long-term effects of this accident remain controversial.

Nearly three million children were affected, and approximately one million are still living on contaminated land, eating contaminated food, and drinking contaminated milk.  The World Health Organization reports there has been an overwhelming increase in rates of thyroid gland cancer among children in Belarus and Ukraine, suggesting a link to the nuclear accident. 


Recently, with diminished financial support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), FOCCUS, INC activities began to identify and support the centers'financial needs including Internet connections, arts and crafts supplies for art therapy, and office equipment.  The support of FOCCUS, INC was instrumental in constructing a community activity room connected to the 450 bed radiology clinic that serves all the children in Belarus who are diagnosed and monitored for thyroid cancer.  This center was also able to develop training sessions and educational materials, including a visual imaging program for children about to undergo biopsies, and a parent-to-parent support program that reaches out to parents when they are back in their home communities.

FOCCUS, INC, also provided funding for the purchase of four vans.  Many of these centers are located in rural areas with villages scattered throughout.  The vans make it possible to provide alcohol, drug, and sex education-including HIV awareness-to these relatively isolated populations.

Norma Berkowitz, President, Friends of Chernobyl Centers, U.S. Inc. (FOCCUS), accepting the 2003 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award.

Here in the United States, FOCCUS, INC members frequently serve as speakers and educators about the devastating effects this accident had on the millions of people in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. 

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations recently said, ".Millions of people continue to be directly affected by the consequences of this disaster.  I remain deeply concerned by their plight.  It is particularly disturbing that few people realize the vast multitude of problems that are still linked to this event and its aftermath."

Each year, the Children of Chernobyl U.S. Alliance-made up of more than 30 faith-based groups-which Norma J. Berkowitz, President of FOCCUS, INC is a board member, brings children from Chernobyl-affected areas to the United States for a six-week summer program.  Last year, approximately 1,200 children participated.  FOCCUS, INC also partially funded a three-day seminar on social democracy in May 2002, which staff members from each of the thirteen centers were able to attend. 

In addition, Berkowitz acts as a consultant working with students from the University of Wisconsin School of Social Work who have an international interest. 

From left: Gary Bailey; Eleanor Kajeckas, FOCCUS Board Member; Mabs Mango, FOCCUS Board Member; Donna Ulteig, FOCCUS Board Member; Norma Berkowitz.

In Wisconsin, FOCCUS, INC has developed relationships with a local elementary school to support the centers and an education project involving a summer course offered to high school science and social science teachers through University of Wisconsin.

Because of the dedication of FOCCUS, INC members, organization has had a remarkable impact on these communities.  The services made possible through educational training and support, and , recently, through financial support from FOCCUS, INC are essential to encourage those affected take control of their lives and act as catalysts for development within their communities.

The International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award is given to an individual, group, or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of social work.  This monetary award, administered by the NASWF, is made possible by an endowment generously established by distinguished social worker, Rhoda G. Sarnat, LCSW, and her husband, Bernard Sarnat, MD. 

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