Coping diversity: Guide

Dr Marlize Malan van Rooyen| View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Case study

Which cultural values guided behaviour in the community?

Two core values reported by the participants were reverence for traditional authority and collective connectedness. Reverence for traditional authority refers to a normative value of respecting the leadership of indigenous authority structures. The indigenous authority structures consisted of certain community members who were chosen to represent and guide the community in mediating adversity. These authority structures consisted of a hierarchy of members. At the top of the structure was the chief (also referred to as the headman), followed by chief messengers who conveyed messages from the community members to the chief.

The second value collective connectedness entails strong use of social coping resources and consists of attributes such as trust, reciprocity as well as collective action and participation. In sum the second value refers to meaningful relationships that create a space where adaptive coping can be fostered.

What adversity does the community face?

The participants indicated that they experience stress due to adversity related to:

  • poverty
  • unemployment
  • poor infrastructure (including under-resourced schools, either a lack of or under-resourced clinics, a lack of shops and water scarcity)
  • a lack of access to health services and educational services
  • problems related to alcohol abuse

What coping resources does the community have?

In terms of individual coping resources the participants identified being religious, personal skills, personal belongings, knowledge and wisdom as coping resources. However, because of the core value of collective connectedness, they viewed these resources as “ours” (belonging to the community) rather than “mine”.

Social resources were reported the most and included: traditional authority members, neighbours, friends, families and the pastors from the church. Cultural resources included having a traditional authority government and cultural days where younger people are introduced to cultural principles.

Institutional resources (even though some of these resources were in itself under-resourced) included houses, farms, churches, schools, shops, cultural centres and sport centres (which often referred to a soccer field). Society based resources identified included social grants and a feeding scheme at the high school.

How does the community use coping resources?

The participants used coping resources through collective consultation and collective participation. Collaboration plays a central role in mediating adversity.

Collective consultation refers to:

  • consulting with friends, families, neighbours and pastors about personal issues
  • consulting with traditional authority structures about community issues
  • consulting with municipal structures if the community is unable to resolve the issue at hand

Collective participation involved:

  • collective recreation: participation in communal activities such as soccer were seen as a good way to prevent drug abuse
  • collective spirituality: going to church were seen as good way to reduce stress
  • collective citizenship: participating in communal meetings helped to discuss and resolve communal problems
  • collective arts: participating in cultural events, such as traditional dances, were seen as a way to reduce stress and teach younger generations about cultural values

Which of the coping behaviours did the community experience as adaptive?

The participants reported all coping strategies as being adaptive. The notion of sharing resources and capitalising on social relationships appeared to underpin the adaptive function of the coping behaviours. Collective action and sharing resources were especially important since the community faced a lack of resources due to poverty, unemployment and being far removed from services.

Which of the coping behaviours did the community experience as maladaptive?

The participants did not identify any of the coping behaviours as maladaptive. However it did appear as if consulting with the municipality did not lead to timely support.

How can existing coping behaviours be reinforced?

The community’s strength evidently lies within their ability to work together to mediate with adversity. Any attempt to reinforce existing adaptive coping behaviours should acknowledge the collective nature of already employed strategies. Support could then focus on how resources can be shared optimally and which strategies can maximise relationships between people.

If we had to apply this to the educational context, teaching professionals and educational psychologists would naturally have to think of intervention plans that include these collective resources and collaborative behaviours. If an educational professional attempted to support a learner from such a community by focusing on the individual and individualistic behaviour their support might become irrelevant.

How can new adaptive coping behaviours be established?

If teaching professionals and educational psychologists feel the need to establish new adaptive coping behaviour they might need to start with a process where they collaboratively decide with the people involved about which new adaptive coping behaviours will be feasible. New adaptive coping behaviours would naturally have to be compatible with the collective nature of the background of learners and their families.

How can maladaptive coping behaviour be eliminated?

Although the community members did not report instances of maladaptive coping it appears as if resources and services that need to be provided by the municipality still fall short. New ways to collaborate with the municipality can be explored.