Researcher studies effectiveness of overseas volunteering

Making a positive contribution in Africa can take time, wrote Maclean’s magazine in a story about research into overseas volunteer programs in its issue dated Sept. 29. Barbara Heron, a professor and graduate program director in York’s Atkinson School of Social Work who is doing a study along with Rebecca Tiessen of Dalhousie University, says host organizations “overwhelmingly” prefer long-term placements (they are defined as six months or more, and include CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) internships, CUSO and Volunteer Services Overseas placements because they are less likely to be “glorified tourism.”

In 2002, Canadians went abroad on seven times more short-term placements than long-term ones, up from a ratio of 4:1 a decade earlier – a trend Heron says signals how “normal” these experiences have become. “You’ve done Europe. You want something more, and this is a very popular more,” she says.

By and large, says Heron, the host organizations she is studying report positive interactions with foreigners, no matter how small their contribution – and the significant investment the host community must make. That investment seems worthwhile, says Heron, because “they’re hopeful that person will go home and work for political change.” For some, it can lead to a lifelong commitment to development work.

But there’s evidence that in other cases, the presence of young foreigners can serve to reinforce inequalities. In Malawi, Heron says, volunteers have been known to arrive with drinking problems, have difficulty adjusting, and “impose their agendas.” And, she says, “[some NGOs] actually talk about racism.” Even if volunteers are culturally sensitive, these middle-class Canadians are separated from locals by a financial gulf so expansive that a genuine interaction is often next to impossible.

York study cites ‘compassion fatigue’

Healthcare professionals who deal with tragedy and trauma every day can suffer from “compassion fatigue” and exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 20, in a story about a York study.

“The stress from working for 40 hours a week with people who have suffered catastrophes, war, childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence accumulates over time and can penetrate every aspect of a helping professional’s life,” said Kyle Killian, professor in York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, who authored the study.

Killian conducted his study in Houston, Texas, interviewing 20 clinicians about their personal experiences with trauma. “Burnout in a job is a result of emotional exhaustion,” Killian said. “Helping professionals may experience compassion fatigue – a kind of vicarious or secondary traumatization experienced as a result of establishing an empathetic connection with the patient’s trauma.

“This fear and anxiety may disrupt their beliefs about safety and trust in the world and in their interpersonal relationships.”

Killian says health agencies need to establish social supports at work and distribute workloads. “Agency administrators, supervisors and health care professionals may have to ask themselves how many cases is too many,” he said.

Getting her act together, taking it on the road

York alumna Judith Snow’s motor is running, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 20. The 58-year-old disabled woman, who teaches inclusion and community building, has eschewed the comforts of her home for an RV and is getting ready to hit the road for a year-long trip throughout North America.

Snow (BA ’72, MA ‘76) is the trailblazer of independent living in Canada; in 1980, she won an 11-year battle to live outside a chronic-care hospital. She had received funding for attendants while studying at York University but was told she would have to return to an institution after graduating – despite a growing reputation as a visionary and inspirational speaker.

North York group seeks change

A North York community meets this morning seeking solutions to the violence plaguing it and systemic barriers that it feels are isolating it from the rest of the city, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 20, in a story that included mention of George Martell, social science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, as one of the scheduled participants. The meeting comes after Tuesday’s shooting murder of William Junior Appiah, 18, killed close to the basketball court at 4400 Jane St., near where the forum will be.

How to explain a $12 million shark?

In his book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, Don Thompson, professor emeritus of economics in the Schulich School of Business at York University and an art collector, tries very hard to determine how the commodity culture – marketing, branding, non-circumspect mass-production and outright hucksterism – infiltrated the art world so completely, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 20.

"Well, for me," Thompson said in the Star’s interview, "the book was motivated by two separate questions: What is art? Is this art? But secondly, why is it worth 10 or 100 times what any reasonable person would think? I teach strategy in a top-20 graduate business school. I’ve followed the auctions, and I’ve followed contemporary art for a number of years, and I’m supposed to know the answer to these things. And I had no idea. Why is a Jeff Koons sculpture made by technicians worth three Rembrandts? You still shake your head at that."

New Brunswick lawyer studied at Osgoode

David McMath (LLB ’86) had always dreamed of becoming a lawyer when he was growing up, wrote Fredricton, NB’s The Daily Gleaner Sept. 20. He pursued his dream by studying law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Since he moved back to New Brunswick in 1992, he has been practising law through his own law firm, Dean & McMath, located on Regent Street.

On air

  • Amin Mawani, professor in the Health Industry Management Program in the Schulich School of Business at York, spoke about his presentation to the World Conference on Disaster Management on a possible influenza pandemic, on Vancouver’s CKWX-AM Sept. 21.
  • Brenda Spotton Visano, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration, spoke about the US government’s plan to pay $700 billion to help out its troubled financial institutions, on CBC News Sept. 21.
  • Carl James, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, spoke on the topic, "Are kids well reflected in their schools?", on the TVO program "The Classroom Mirror" Sept. 16.