Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Monika Tuerk: Ambassador of Great Ideas

Monika Tuerk: Bringing innovation across the sea

What do you do with a law degree and a lot of  energy when you are the wife of an ambassador?
Monika Tuerk figured it out: Soak up the best ideas from the country you are in --  then make those ideas happen at home. And vice versa.
From 1993 to 1999, her husband, Helmut Tuerk, was Austria's Ambassador to the United States. Monika was fascinated by the way hospice care had taken off here.  She made it a point, as she and her husband traveled around the United States, to visit various hospice programs. She was moved by what she saw. There was nothing like that in Austria, she said. So when an American couple who were entrenched in the  hospice movement here visited Vienna, she made sure they met with with influential Austrians and got the idea rolling there.
"I tried to encourage people and it has really found good soil in Austria," she told me.  "We have good hospice care now, both in places where people can go to live but also mobile hospice. And in the last two years we've opened children's hospice. I just spread the idea."
She was equally enthusiastic about bringing to America the SOS Children's Villages program, which was started in Vienna after World War II and is now, according to their website, in 133 countries, including the United States. The idea is to give children who have been orphaned, neglected or abandoned a loving home  and an "SOS mother" to care for them. About 7 to 10 children live in each home, attending  public school and being part of their community, she said, and visiting with their parents, if they have them and choose to do so.  The SOS Village is there for them to age 18, with additional supports, or the chance to move back after that. "It really works well," she said.
Now, on its international website, SOS says it's in war-torn countries such as Syria, trying to help children who have been orphaned there.
But in the United States, the program had difficulty launching, despite interest in several states,  because of the complexities of foster care laws, Monika said. Fast-forward to today: the legal challenges haven't stopped the organization from making its mark in the United States. In Illinois and Florida, SOS is now working to provide vulnerable children with stable homes, education and quality healthcare to help them thrive.
Some would see Monika's career as one of having to compromise her own ambitions as she followed her husband to posts around the world. (Most recently, Helmut has served as a judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas in Hamburg, Germany.) During one stretch, in Vienna, she found work as a lawyer but her boss, she said, would pass off to her all the unpleasant cases he didn't want to deal with. During another stint, she plunged into a medical writing job, knowing little about science -- or writing, for that matter.
"I was afraid and nervous but I just did it and I succeeded with it," she said.
Helmut Tuerk will step down from his Law of the Sea judgeship next spring and the couple will then look to new challenges.  For sure, though, Monika  --like a Johnny Appleseed of ideas -- will be spreading wisdom.  Unretiring.

1 comment:

Linda P. said...

I enjoyed reading about Monika Tuerk's efforts to improve many lives: those back in her home of Austria and those in the countries in which she and her husband are living.