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Professor David Divine who is pursuing doctoral studies at Durham University on the resilience of young people in a care setting, shares excerpts from his recent book, Aberlour Narratives of Success. While orphanages are usually portrayed grimly in popular media, David found through his ethnographic research, including interviews with former residents and staff at the Aberlour Orphanage, along with his own childhood experience there, that personal sense of resilience and community within these institutions allow young people to eventually lead successful lives as adults.

In the first of a series of posts on the subject of personal resilience, David shares an insider’s view of living in a residential care setting. 

I was admitted to Aberlour Orphanage at the age of 18 months from the residential nursery in Edinburgh, and entered Princess Margaret Nursery School in 1955. As I grew older I slowly realized that I had not been wanted in my original birth family and was ejected because of how I looked and never reclaimed. That still hurts and I am now in my late fifties. But I also grew to feel a strong belonging to Aberlour Orphanage and to the carers at the Orphanage, and particularly to Aunty Phylis, my Housemother at Spey House (one of the houses for boys at Aberlour Orphanage), where I stayed from leaving the Princess Margaret Nursery School until I left Aberlour at the age of 11 in 1964. I then entered foster care hundreds of miles south in a coal mining village, four miles outside Edinburgh.


Aberlour Orphanage 1875, from Arberlour Narratives of Success

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Dr Timothy Sim with Hong Kong Polytechnic University visited Durham University to present a unique exhibition of photos by young people who lived through the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in Wenchuan, China.  In this video, Dr Sim talks about the resilience of the children who survived the earthquake and tells the story behind their international photo exhibition.  This video includes photos from the exhibition.

The ‘man-made hazard’ of war is universal in many developing countries, but it is one of many social and physical hazards they experience firsthand.  This article from IHRR’s archives looks specifically at research on resilience in young people in Afghanistan from two researchers: Catherine Panter-Brick and Mark Eggerman, whose work was based at Durham University.  They found that young people’s traumatic experiences in Afghanistan are not confined to war, but ‘range from armed insurgency to severe family level conflict’. Traumatic experiences caused by ‘everyday violence’ in Afghanistan lead to psychiatric disorders along with symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Today, one in five school children in Afghanistan is likely to suffer from clinical mental health problems.

Everyday violence

In Afghanistan, young people are trapped within a landscape of violence that is not limited to war.  According to Eggerman, the kinds of violence young Afghans are exposed to include everything from ‘falling off a roof while flying a kite to witnessing a suicide bomb attack at a bus stop in Kabul’.  ‘There’s a spectrum of violence -– it’s not all about the war -– and it isn’t uniform’, he said.  The popular media’s of Afghanistan would have you believe that the entire country is a war zone.  But young people’s exposure to war-related violence depends on what part of Afghanistan they live in and 80% of young people interviewed by Panter-Brick and Eggerman had not left the country.  Older children had memories of devastating violence such as rockets falling during the Mujahideen civil war in the mid-1990s.  In Bamyan, they witnessed villages burn down and people severely beaten or shot by the Taliban.

But there were many other young people who had little exposure to political violence, although they had witnessed other acts of violence in their neighbourhood such as stabbings or severe public beatings.  They, along with other youth in Afghanistan, are focused on how to ‘make ends meet’ and live up to their family’s hopes and expectations.  Despite living in a country torn by war and other forms of violence, many young Afghans are just striving for socioeconomic survival. Read more

Christina Makungu’s research for her MA in Geography was funded by the Christopher Moyes Memorial Trust and Department of Geography at Durham University.

Christina Makungu, an MA student in the Department of Geography at Durham, recently completed her research in IHRR on the plight of young people in southern Tanzania who are in self care –  ‘Young People in self care: Behaviours and experiences in farming households in Kilombero Valley, southern Tanzania.’

Her dissertation explores the impact of self care arrangement in school aged-children in villages within the Kilombero Valley when their parents are away for farming activities for several months. In this interview, Christina gives insights into her research in Tanzania and identifies how problems surrounding children in self care can be addressed.

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