Thursday, June 10, 2010

Douglas grad's research project makes international splash

Community Social Service Worker Kara Dooley with participants in a 2009 project that brought Ugandan traditional healer stogether with representatives from the medical community to find ways of working together to better serve patients with mental illness.

When Kara Dooley joined the Community Social Service Worker (CSSW) Program, she never expected that her journey would take her from Uganda to Australia and now to a major international conference in Hong Kong.

This week, Dooley is presenting the findings of a research project she conducted during the 10 weeks she spent in Uganda in 2009 as part of the CSSW program’s Uganda Project in front of an audience of professionals, academics, practitioners, social planners, policy makers and advocates at the at the 2010 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development.

CSSW instructor John Fox, who will co-present with Dooley, says it is rare for a diploma graduate to be accepted to present at a conference of this scale, which is attended by top researchers from around the world.

“At first I didn’t completely realize how big a deal it was, but the more I’ve spoken to people about it, the more I’ve seen what a fantastic opportunity this is for me,” said Dooley from her current home in Perth, Australia, where she is working as a case worker for a residential care program. “I’ve never done a presentation like this before, so I’m kind of jumping in with both feet.”

While in Uganda, Dooley worked with the national mental health program to explore ways of linking traditional healers who provide health care for people in villages and rural areas with the formal medical system.

A Ugandan traditional healer in his shop.

Dooley hopes her presentation will raise awareness of the clash between traditional and western medicine in Uganda and Africa as a whole, particularly when it comes to mental health issues. More than 80 per cent of Ugandans live in villages and small towns where few formal mental health or medical services are available and depend on local traditional healers for health care services.

“Traditional healers in Uganda are extensively involved with treating mental illness, and most people will see a traditional healer before they see a doctor,” said Dooley. “The relationship between traditional healers and mental health workers needs to be worked on from both sides. Once trust is built then collaboration can begin and more importantly be sustained.”

As for this week’s conference, Dooley says she has the jitters under control.

“I’m not terribly nervous. My voice might be a little shaky, but I know what I’m talking about and I’m passionate about it,” she said. “I think it’s really important to tell this story.”

Photos supplied by Kara Dooley