July 10, 2020Print | PDF
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many businesses and organizations were forced to close or scale back operations, including some that provide important services to vulnerable members of the community.
The Waterloo-based Adventure4Change was one of those. The organization provides programs, including school tutoring, leadership and motivational exercises, mentoring, summer camps, clubs and a hang-out space for youth, with the aim of alleviating the impacts of poverty and marginalization on families.
When Adventure4Change was forced to shut down its in-person services in March, the organization was serving 16 refugee families, mainly from the Horn of Africa and Sudan. Since then, these families have been stuck at home, isolated from their communities. Many are worried about the coronavirus and how their children will fare when school restarts in the fall. The difficulties of moving to an online world with no computer or limited understanding of how to use a computer, as well as language barriers, financial stressors, cramped housing and boredom, have also contributed to their challenges.
This summer and fall, two researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University will study how these families are coping during the pandemic and how losing access to Adventure4Change services has affected them.
Associate Professor Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, who teaches in the Human Rights and Human Diversity program, and Associate Professor Oliver Masakure, who teaches in the Business Technology Management program, hope the research will draw attention to the needs of the community and the importance of services offered by community organizations like Adventure4Change. The project will also provide Adventure4Change Director Jeremy Horne, Community Engagement Coordinator Heather Powers, and staff an opportunity to check in on families they haven’t heard from in months.
“The research will allow us to understand the role that community organizations play in times like this. If there is a second wave, or another kind of crisis, organizations will be able to strengthen their capacity to serve that community better."
- Oliver Masakure, associate professor
“These families are stuck in their houses and apartments, completely cut off from services,” says Wilson-Forsberg. “Through this project, Adventure4Change can move some of their activities online and be able to connect with families over the next few months.”
The project is part of the larger Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership-funded Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition, a coalition of academics, education and service provider organizations, and federal and provincial government representatives committed to promoting the successful integration of refugee children and youth in Canada. The researchers want to understand how teenagers are coping with not being able to see their friends and losing many structured activities. They will also focus on how youth are managing their schoolwork.
Wilson-Forsberg and Masakure plan to speak over the phone with youth as well as their parents, to see how parents are keeping teens motivated and engaged. They’ve asked teenagers to keep journals documenting how they spend their days and to lead online discussions to see how their peers are coping at home. Students in Laurier’s Master of Social Work program will help establish online discussion groups about a variety of topics, including hobbies, sports and parenting. They will also provide counselling over the phone.
Once public gatherings are permitted, refugee youth, Laurier students and researchers, Adventure4Change staff and policymakers will gather to discuss their experiences. From that workshop, researchers will complete a report about the lessons learned for community organizations, policymakers, educators and practitioners to use in the future. Parents will also receive a one-page document with advice about how best to support their children during future crises. The research team will also share its findings in an academic journal article and at academic conferences.
“The research will allow us to understand the role that community organizations play in times like this,” says Masakure. “If there is a second wave, or another kind of crisis, organizations will be able to strengthen their capacity to serve that community better. It will also help them maintain that close bond they have with the community.”
As the incoming Director and Associate Director of Laurier’s Tshepo Institute for the Study of Contemporary Africa, Wilson-Forsberg and Masakure noted that this project fits nicely with the institute’s ongoing mandate to promote global awareness and excellence in knowledge development on issues in Contemporary Africa and the African Diaspora in Canada and beyond.
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