This is the fifth newsletter of the Caring Society. Caring Society (CASO) stands for Building Communities, Social Inclusion and Health(care) Development. The consortium consists of 3 South African (SA) and 3 European universities which closely collaborate to:

  • further, develop and improve healthcare and wellbeing education,
  • improve the position of patients by involving them in classroom settings,
  • promote healthy lifestyles and improve the competence level of healthcare professionals.

The 6th CASO staff meeting, Cape Town, South Africa

It seems like just yesterday when we first all met in Cape Town to celebrate the approval of the CASO proposal and begin our work. Now here we are, almost three years later, back in Cape Town to finalise our outputs, reflect on our achievements, and celebrate the (almost) completion of this amazing project.  

Participating in CASO has stretched us all. We have learned how to crosscultural, language and disciplinary boundaries with grace and humility, we have learned how to work in diverse teams across time and space, and we have learned how to value the voices and expertise of academics, students, and community members alike. At times it was challenging, and we cried as much as we laughed, but in the end, we have formed personal and professional bonds that have enriched us and will last for the rest of our lives.

The sixth and final CASO staff meeting, which took place in May, had three main areas of focus: finalising the MOOC, preparing for the external review committee, and preparing for the CASO end symposium.

At the previous staff meeting in Antwerp, we had started to identify the common threads that unify the curriculum development work undertaken by each of the three CASO work packages. Now, with all the content complete, it was time to finalise the whole MOOC by refining and establishing the links between the work package content. This was a massive undertaking, but we worked on it slowly and methodically as a team and, not only was it a very productive exercise, but it was also wonderful to gain a comprehensive sense of what each of the work packages has been developing.

As we are nearing the end of CASO, we were again visited by the external review committee. In preparation for the review, each work package developed a poster detailing their outputs and achievements. This was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what we set out to do, how we managed to navigate various challenges to reach our aims, and the many unanticipated beneficial results and ‘spin-offs’ from our work. On conclusion of their report, the committee gave us a resounding thumbs-up!

The final day of the staff meeting was reserved for the CASO end symposium.

The Patient Partner Programme: Storytelling to enhance empathy and social dialogue

This workshop was presented by Bonfire Freestyle Theatre Company, an improvisational theatre group that works with audience stories to create a transformational healing space between the story and a theatrical representation of the story. Bonfire is part of the NPO, Zakheni Transformative Arts Centre, who provided extensive training to the patient partners on mindfulness in communication encounters. This association opened new doors for the patient partners, two of whom have subsequently the Bonfire group

The Patient Partner Programme: Using the ICF framework as a common language in collaborative education and practices

In this workshop, facilitated by Soraya Maart, Anthea Hansen and Vic McKinney, participants explored real-life examples to understand the interaction of an impairment/health condition with functional limitations, participation restrictions and contextual factors in the disablement process. The value of the patient partner in facilitating the participants’ understanding of concepts through the lived experience of the patient partner was demonstrated. As educators of future healthcare providers, it is important that our curriculum allows for authentic engagement with the end-users of our services. This type of workshop goes beyond “engagement” as we know it, the voice of the marginalized “patient partner” and the facilitation of the workshop by the patient partner is significant is promoting meaningful learning for our students.

The Patient Partner Programme: Diversity competence

Facilitated by Bart Paaimans, Elmi Badenhorst and Tuula Hypponen, this workshop focused on the core themes of culture, diversity, and intercultural communication. Participants received a ‘gentle’ introduction to some of the theories related to culture, and some of the shortcomings of existing theories and models, such as stereotyping. Participants were then led through a discussion about the influence of culture on one’s identity. The concept of culture was then framed within the broader context of diversity, with some facilitated exercises to raise awareness about everyone’s diverse, constructed identity. Finally, the facilitators introduced participants to the MOOC, going over the underlying International and Intercultural Competences (ICOMS) that the MOOC responds to.

The Healthy Lifestyle Programme: Improving health and lifestyle at schools

The purpose of this session was to provide all students who participated in research or mobility, with an opportunity to share their findings and reflections of participating in this project. The workshop hosted four Pecha Kucha style presentations, followed by a plenary session. The four presentations covered the topics of Sustainable Physical Education Programmes for Children in Primary Schools in Resource-Constrained Communities; Structured vs Unstructured Activities in Schools; Video reflections from EU student internship at Play Sport for Life (NGO, Western Cape); and SA Students’ reflections on their experiences abroad.

The Healthy Lifestyle Programme: Higher impact through multidisciplinary collaboration

This workshop, facilitated by Gerard Fillies, Marie Young and John Dierx, used highly interactive games and challenges that multidisciplinary groups had to resolve. Participants were then led through a process of reflection, to identify and highlight the lessons learned by working together in groups consisting of people from different healthcare professions. The workshop was well-attended, and participants indicated that they found it to be a valuable learning experience

The Healthy Lifestyle Programme: Physical activity as a tool for community development

One of the objectives of the Health and Lifestyle Programme is to “Capacitate students to facilitate and train educators in the application of physical education and sports development”. The workshop, facilitated by Andre Travill, Annamaija Id-Korhonen, and Pieter Lievens aligned with this objective and painted a picture which challenged the general beliefs people have about the many positive health, social and economic benefits associated with the participation in sport and physical activities. The workshop elicited a lively discussion with the interested and well-informed participants. It highlighted the fact that if we do not consciously plan to extract positive developmental outcomes from participation in sport, it can have the exact opposite outcome, and even lead to devastating health, social and economic consequences.

The Empowered Caregiver Programme: Emotional agility

Facilitated by Talita van Schalkwyk and Veronique Fromont, this workshop focussed on being emotional agile – accepting what is… with no judgment about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feelings, just accepting and moving on. Veronique summed it up beautifully: “We went deep during our workshop. All the participants were very interactive and showed some insights into very personal feelings. I really would like to express how touched I was by the kindness and the positive, warm feedback we received. I needed time to reflect and even, now writing this, it makes me emotional. As a European, or need I say, Belgian professional, we are used to always asking, how can we improve? But during the workshop, I received so much warmth and positivity, and people were so grateful. I felt that I was recognized for who I was/am and what I did/do”.

The Empowered Caregiver Programme: Critical thinking

This workshop began with a brief introduction to the basics of Critical Thinking by Esmarie Wiese from WCCN, George. Following this, Kristiina Nykänen from LAMK in Lahti, Finland presented a discussion on how important Evidence-Based Practice is in Critical Thinking and Decision making.  The workshop was concluded by Roselien Jonkers from WCCN, George with a Critical Thinking exercise, and a summary of the key practices for Critical Thinking. We enjoyed every moment and are very thankful that we had this amazing opportunity to empower others with these important skills!

The Empowered Caregiver Programme: Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. A method that can be used by social- and healthcare workers to empower the client or the patient. With MI you will guide people to find their own motivation to change their behaviour. Instead of telling people what to do, you will guide people to let them discover what they want to do themselves. In the workshop, Marleen Mares and Charlot Lugtigheid briefly showed the different processes (engaging, focusing, evoke and planning) and core elements (open-ended questions, reflections, affirmations and summarizing) of MI.  Most of the workshop, however, was spent on practising reflective listening and experiencing how motivation can be influenced.

The Management Team

The management team’s cross-cutting workshops, facilitated by Chris Young (SA project manager) and Rene Teunissen (CASO project manager), focused on: How many lessons can be learned in 36 months? How much capacity can be built? How do you disseminate these lessons? And, did we make an impact?

Building capacity

In this session, participants discussed lessons learned about strategic internationalisation and how to overcome north-south barriers by building capacity at all levels through a quadruple helix approach, such that different stakeholder communities (such as NGO’s like Play Sport 4 Life, university students, patient partners, nurses, teachers and Higher Education institutions staff) can come together to develop each group’s capacity by contributing to the educational process.

Sustainable exploitation and dissemination

 Dissemination and sustainability, and the perceived ideas of contribution before, during and at the end of the project, can vary. When you commit to a project like CASO, your perceived contribution will change to allow the development of an effective program. And, in the end, each stakeholder walks away with a value-added product and results that will build on creating a ripple effect of active learning.

Creating impact

The impact that CASO made in different areas is variable, but did we make an impact?  Yes, we did. Seeing scholars, students, teacher, NGO’s and patient partners in township developing and building on the platforms created by CASO provides good evidence of this impact. The CASO project has been a great instrument as part of these strategies; building capacity on many levels and for many stakeholders. After three years we have seen progress through our Higher Education institutions on the development of the global student and educator. International and cultural relations captured in partner countries and how CASO will continue and maintain the different project lines by keeping them sustainable through the development of MOU’s

Following the Workshops

Delegates were treated to a wonderful and moving performance by the Association for People with Disabilities Drakenstein Choir, embodying the CASO ethos of collaboration, social inclusion and diversity.

The symposium culminated with a panel discussion with representatives from WCCN (Liesl Strauss), CPUT (Prof. Simeon Davies), and UWC (Prof. Hester Julie). In line with the framework developed by Elspeth Jones (Jones, 2013), the representatives provided their ideas on leading and engaging academic and support staff in the internationalisation of higher education. We reflected on multidimensional comprehensive internationalisation strategies and the roles and responsibilities of University Faculty and Management.

Social activities

Of course, no CASO staff meeting would be complete without the opportunity to build the bonds of friendship through recreational activities and social events. The welcome dinner at the start of the week was a lovely opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues, while the farewell dinner at the end of the week was bittersweet; a chance to celebrate and acknowledge all of the hard work and effort that has made CASO and our symposium a success, but also a time to say goodbye to wonderful friends and colleagues, without knowing when we’ll see each other again.

Another highlight of the week was the opportunity for staff to take part in the Cape Town FNB 12 ONERUN; A 12km fun race through the beautiful city of Cape Town, that encourages participants to enter as a team, dress to a theme, and walk, dance or run Cape Town their way.

International mobility

On 9 June, 3 staff members and 5 Patient Partner (PP) students set off on a short mobility visit to Breda and Antwerp. Under the leadership of Rachel Weiss and Anthea Hansen, the purpose of the trip was to engage with projects or groups who work with ‘experts by experience’ or who are involved with communities from a social accountability perspective, and the itinerary included visits to Higher Education institutions (Avans, Karl de Grote Hogeschool and Maastricht University), a church group and NGOs focused on poverty, cancer, refugees and disability inclusion. Every visit was preceded by a goal-setting exercise with the students as well as a reflective discussion afterwards. Our goal was to broaden our understanding of participatory community engagement and to spark ideas for the way forward, post-CASO. We were not disappointed!

An undisputed highlight was meeting Jacqueline Crooimans and Barbara van der Meulen at Vick Brown House, an ‘inloophuis’ in Den Bosch where people affected by cancer ( as patients or family) come for support and encouragement and … well, just to be loved for a few hours! Barbara and her team’s passion and enthusiasm for this work is truly inspiring and we were just blown away by their hospitality and sharing of their knowledge and experience. Similarly, inspirational was the compassion and humility of Pieter Wieers of Sant’ Egidio, where the team helped in the Kamiano restaurant serving homeless people. We thoroughly enjoyed the day spent with Huib Cornielje from the organisation Enablement, a tireless activist who helped us envision a more integrated practical approach to disability inclusion in our curricula and research.  It was also a great privilege to visit the academic ‘birthplace’ of the PP project: in Antwerp, Kristel Driessens ( who introduced us to the concept through her research) was accompanied by two ‘experts’ on poverty, and in Maastricht Skills Lab, Sandy Nelissen and her team shared experiences and processes on which some of the PP training as simulated patients were based. At Avans and Karl de Grote, postgraduate EU students (Michelle Oosten and Ella Versichele) presented their research around Experts by Experience, creating lively debate and leaving us with much ‘food for thought’… as was also the case with Rona Kennedy’s Migrating Dialogues’ and Manu from SAMIK. Meeting Stefan van Teeffelen at Avans was serendipitous but exactly at the right time; we hope to work together towards our very own ‘inloophuis’ in Langa, Cape Town!

Of course, ‘real’ food was also consumed in great quantities and varieties, both during visits and afterwards… a heartfelt thanks to our European CASO colleagues Bea van Robeys, Bart Paaimans, Dianne van den Berg and Marleen Mares, whose hospitality and friendly faces brightened the rainy and chilly European ‘summer’! Despite the raincoats and jerseys, our students had wonderful, enriching experiences and we feel empowered to tackle the next step forward.

Compiled by: Rachel, Soraya, Anthea, Busayo, Elmi, Naeema, Letatia & Natashia

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