Professor Rizzo Shares Research Results on Elder Abuse and Prevention

April 22nd has come to be known around the word as Earth Day, a day during which activities are held to celebrate the import of the environment and to protect the fragility of our natural ecosystem.

Less well known is the import of June 15, designated as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Through her critical research, one of Binghamton University’s CCPA professors, Dr. Victoria Rizzo, is helping to change that level of awareness. Dr. Rizzo, Social Work Department Chair and associate professor, was invited to share the results of her two-year research project during the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop. The research looked at the Jewish Association for Services to the Aging’s Legal/Social Work Elder Abuse Program (JASA/LEAP), an initiative that brings social workers and lawyers together to work with abused elders and their families residing in three boroughs of New York City.

Rizzo reported that clients in the JASA/LEAP program were retained at a rate of 71.7 percent and the effectiveness of the services rendered resulted in a reduction of reported abuse by 68.2 percent. The findings suggest that the JASA/LEAP approach, teaming multidisciplinary skill sets is a highly effective approach to addressing elder abuse and neglect.

“The model allows clients to continue to receive services, even when they choose to abandon a legal claim of elder abuse, because the social worker can continue to implement the clients’ safety plans,” Rizzo said. “Should clients later choose to reinstate the legal case, the lawyer can resume work from the previous stopping point. This is possible because the lawyer and social worker are part of the same program in the same agency.”

For an expanded description of Dr. Rizzo’s work check out Natalie Murphy’s (Communications Manager, Binghamton University) comprehensive article here.

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Malawi Blog Post #2 – Erin Law

Malawi has its own phrase: “The warm heart of Africa.” After being here for only a week, it is completely obvious and completely true. The people here are so kind: lodge staff where we are staying and eating many of our meals, staff at the different restaurants we have gone to, shopkeepers, our drivers who have already been incredibly helpful and, of course, the kids and faculty/staff at MCM have all been exceptionally welcoming and kind to us.

In some ways, it doesn’t surprise me. Malawi is a place where respect and kindness are still a part of everyday life, not just something that is reserved for guests or adults. Adults are kind to adults and children are kind to children (for the most part, that is – I did witness some schoolyard bullying, so I guess that’s universal). What did surprise me, though, is how I have already been changed by it. I try to be fair in my everyday life but I know that I often fail. I often want more just to have more, instead of giving it to someone else who truly needs it. I haven’t experienced that here. I’m sure that the people I have met here that do not have a lot to offer would love to have more, but they have also offered us what little they have. I hate to say that it is “amazing” because that word doesn’t accurately describe my experience here, but I’m having trouble finding the right word.

Malawi

Part of our time here has been spent working with the three villages served by MCM on micro-financing. For three days we went out into the three villages to speak with the women and while we were there, they gave us their mats to sit on or brought chairs for us while they sat on the ground, typically in the dirt and dust. Last year, Professor Blitz came and laid some of the groundwork for this project. She spoke with the women about what they feel are strengths and challenges of their communities and what they feel would make life a little easier. This year we spoke with them about starting a small jewelry and soap-making business. Now, I realize that for many people, especially in the United States, jewelry and soap would not be life-changing. What is life-changing, however, is the price that American tourists will pay for truly Malawian-made jewelry or soap. Trust me it is much more difficult to find items made in Malawi than you would think!

After presenting our idea, the women responded with clapping and collective “ehs” (yes). They also expressed legitimate concerns and questions about running a business. We spoke for approximately two hours at each of the villages and then for another two hours, at least, with all of the villages together. The collective meeting was at MCM and was attended by over 150 people! Most of the attendees were women, but some men, including the chiefs of the villages, came to listen, support, and participate.

In Malawi, much like in the U.S., the women are responsible for the housework and for taking care of the children. Some of the women in the village work, but there are limited jobs available. One of our concerns was how the men in the village would feel if the women, at least to start, were going to work and make money for their families. During the collective meeting at MCM, one of the husbands stood up and said something to the effect of “the men and husbands may need to take on some of the responsibility at home if the women are going to be working.” The claps that came from the meeting room were loud and happy!

So often we mistake language differences and economic differences as differences in ability. This project and these women, as well as some of the men, have shown me just how wrong this assumption is. The people we have worked with are incredibly smart and determined. They are resilient and hard-working. They are kind and selfless and I am privileged to have met them and been a part of this development. I feel a little awkward when the women say “zikomo” (thank you) to me because it feels, to me, that we have offered them so much less than what they have offered to me. We have given them some beginning materials and some support in getting started with their business, but who hasn’t had a little help in getting started in anything they’ve done?

Malawi Blog Post #4 – Bridgette Hathaway

Malawi
Sharing dreams and planning for an awesome future

What is wealth? Until quite recently I believed wealth was measured in love and not money; that all the truly vital shares of life were free. Money, while constraining and occasionally inconvenient, seemed irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. Malawi has taught me the error in my thinking; the things I have taken for granted:   Money is a privilege.

While I have not adjusted my perspective concerning the immeasurable value of love, freedom, kindness, generosity, and the like, I have refocused on what lacking access to money signifies.

The great continent of Africa is abundant with wealth and prosperity from the crops produced from its earth. The continent’s people work day in and day out, for decades, only to barely survive with enough food to eat. The hypocrisy in this is beyond ironic, and more aptly, inhumane.

I stand witness to a place of beauty and wealth, only to see the indigenous community members struggling in conditions my country would not tolerate; all the while, the U.S. stands with other global super powers exploiting and benefiting from the revenue generated from crops of tea, maize, cotton, and tobacco, just to name a few.

To answer the original question I posed, my new perspective is that wealth is the ability to enjoy life. The indigenous people of Malawi enjoy life in a way I never imagined. They are truly “The Warm Heart of Africa.”   They possess wealth of culture, community, love, kindness, and generosity. They struggle together, harnessing their strengths to succeed against all odds. This ability, however, is compromised when hunger interferes.

Even slight hunger causes people to feel distress. In the U.S., “Hangry” is the newest “trend” describing the way we feel when we are put slightly off a single meal. The famine faced by Malawi in the early part of this century caused panic, desperation, and even death. Currently challenged by drought, villages faces food shortages throughout the country.

Until my exposure to this program, I believed most of the myths associated with Africa. Hollywood has painted quite the picture. This country, one I have the honor of visiting, is beyond beautiful: scenically, as well as culturally. Most importantly, however, I have learned what not to believe.

Just because an individual works their entire life does not mean they are paid a fair wage. Just because the majority of a country believes they are free, does not mean they are. Just because schools and media teach that racism is no longer real, doesn’t mean it is not. And just because a person suffers does not mean they are treated medically.

It is of paramount importance that we bring to attention the necessity for our species to recognize each other not only as competing conspecifics but as worthy of an equitable investment in the health and well-being of each other. We must distinguish the value of our cultural diversity and inaugurate a celebration of those differences that our ever-evolving individualities make us who we are. Global citizenship is obligatory to protect our human rights. We must redefine wealth to include the care and celebration of each other’s prosperity. Only then will we ever gain the true ability to embrace wealth.

Malawi Blog Post #3: Bridgette Hathaway

Malawi, Africa is an amazing, beautiful land. “The warm heart of Africa” has captured my heart in just a few short days. There are myriad aspects of this community that draw my attention and emotion. While the people in Malawi struggle, their vast strengths are immeasurable.

Charles, who is roughly 65 years of age, is one of the drivers hired by the program to assist us in transportation. He lives in Malawi, outside Blantyre, but does not have his own vehicle. Annie’s Lodge allows Charles and other employees to sleep at the lodge during the week while they work. Charles works for the lodge as a driver and mechanic; he performs other tasks as needed.

Charles also speaks Chichewa, the native mother tongue. While he transports us from place to place, he also translates conversations for us. Although he and the other driver were not initially hired as translators, they were both eager to support us.

Bridgette Hathaway at MCM in MalawiYesterday, we decided to stay in and catch up on written and planning work, as well as much-needed sleep. When Charles was informed his services were not needed for the morning, I inquired if he would also sleep. He has a deep, disturbing cough and told me he is not sleeping more than three-to-four hours each night. After driving us, he waits to drive all the other employees home. Just last night they woke him at one in the morning to go purchase electricity.

Charles said he would not rest, that he planned to do his laundry and go to the market. When I pressed him to consider resting, he said that he has to work, to make the most of his time earning money due to the eight orphans he adopted into his home. He and his wife lost two out of three children to the HIV/AIDS epidemic; his other children were orphaned due to this disease as well.

In the face of such tragedy and responsibility one might expect an individual to show an array of negative emotional signs. Charles does not. He is incredible. He smiles and laughs; he tells us stories and describes all of Malawi’s attributes; he shares the struggle the country faces from his perspective and educates us about his community through a wealth of indigenous knowledge.

Charles stated, “You cannot take anything with you. You are born with nothing and you leave with nothing. You are far better off doing for your people than worrying about collecting things.” This statement affected me profoundly. While so many stress about how much money they make, this man, who works so hard to ensure he and his family eat, is carefree and kind. He is thoughtful, considerate, and quite funny. He is positive and proud of the commitments and endeavors he undertakes and of their success. Charles shared that he would have his life no other way.

I am not only grateful to know him; I will remain in touch with Charles and his family after we leave. He is very near and dear to my heart already and I trust the feeling is mutual. The positive strength and kindness he shares are infinite; Charles is an incredible example of what I hope for in my own life.

Malawi Blog Post #3: Clark Soulia

Along this journey in Malawi our group was fortunate enough to have two wonderful men in our lives for the majority of our trip: Alistair and Charles. These two men were our drivers for the trip but ended up in the role of translators, travel guides, and teachers of Malawian culture, traditions, and ways of life. Most importantly for me, these men have become friends who will always hold a special place in my heart and life. They were both so generous with their time, enabling our group to have experiences a normal traveler or tourist may not have. For this blog I want to give you two personal experiences I had with these men.

Charles from Malawi - Clark SouliaCharles:

So there I was at Annie’s Lodge after a day of field trips with the children from the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) when I saw Charles walking through courtyard. I stopped like I usually did to say hello and asked how his day had been going. Our conversation turned into a lesson about Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, introspection, and prayer that he was observing. I asked Charles what Ramadan was and what it meant as I knew very little about it. What I learned was not by a text book version of what Ramadan is and I know there is much more behind it than what he told me but the way he explained it to me made sense.

Charles told me that people observing Ramadan fast from four in the morning until six o’clock at night and then they could eat and drink until four the next morning when the fasting started again. The purpose behind this, he said, was to cleanse; a renewing of mind, body, and soul. He used the analogy of a snake shedding its skin. When the snake sheds its old skin then it is new again, much like a person after a month of fasting. Though there is more to this holy holiday than what Charles explained to me I now have a better understanding behind Ramadan, the ninth month of the 12-month Islamic calendar. I know now that when I hear things regarding Ramadan that are anything other than than fasting, introspection, and prayer I can easily dismiss them seeing as how I met a kind, warm-hearted man that told me the truth.

Alistair from Malawi - Clark SouliaAlistair:

The day started very early for me and three of my fellow group mates as we made our way to hike Mt Mulanje, a massive formation of granite with over thirteen different peaks rising more than 3,000m high. We had a good day and once our fun on the mountain was finished it was time to head back to Annie’s Lodge but not before Alistair took a detour to the home of his aunt and uncle. We had no idea that he was going to make this stop but I can say that it ended up being one of the best experiences of the trip. These folks welcomed us into their home and made us feel as if we were part of their family. We visited for about an hour relaxing, talking and eating grapefruit, papaya, and guava, fresh off the trees and vines growing in the yard.

Alistair’s aunt explained to us how papaya could be used to help ward off, and prevent, cancer and how the leaves and seeds of the Moringa tree growing in their yard were packed full of healing and nutritional benefits. Of course, Alistair’s aunt had us try both. This was a side of Malawi many visitors do not get to experience, made possible by the kindness and generosity of a man that started out as our driver and eventually became a friend who shared his family with us.

Malawi – Maria V. Matute

The Young Women's Initiative Making Jewelry
The Young Women’s Initiative Making Jewelry

There are no words that can describe how I’m feeling as I arrive in Malawi. I’m amazed by the positive vibes and support that I’ve received from our hosts throughout this whole week.   I also saw very clearly how colonialism and the years of exploitation have left very significant damage on Malawi. Yet I felt secure in the community we were visiting.

Our driver and translator is Alistair. Today I met with his aunty and uncle. They welcomed us with open arms and gave us fresh fruit they grow themselves. I was so grateful because their generosity was very genuine. As Alistair’s aunty talked about her home and all her plants, her husband talked about trying to find a way to sustain their family through bread-making.

Jennifer and Christina
Jennifer and Christina

Not only are they very skilled at planting, they are also very generous. They rent their other homes to families very inexpensively, aware that people are struggling. They help by charging low rent and encouraging others to farm as well. As we ate the food Aunty gave us, she took the seeds out and explained to us how important it was to conserve and to share their home and gardens with their neighbors.

Alistair’s uncle explained that having people live there also helps them feel secure. This is so powerful because I’ve seen that sense of community several times in other places in Malawi. It made me realize how much the United States is missing out. We honor and praise the luxuries that we have and take for granted: cars, Internet, electricity, phones. However, the sense of having people who want to work as a collective to help uplift each other is something new that I have only encountered here in Malawi. This is a strength that Malawi possesses. In the United States, we look for what is easy, convenient and comfortable: like good transportation, nice spacious rooms, safe communities. But we don’t look for communities that have positive, generous values. This causes us to not have those unifying forces that can bring people together. There is a beauty that comes with helping one another that is often blinded by negative self-ambition and selfishness.

Malawi has really made me grateful and also aware of the opportunities that I have as a student. I never saw a community as an important aspect to life, or as a means to help me strive for my goals.  This is something I very much lack and seemingly irrelevant to most of us in the United States.

Malawi – Melissa Bougdanos

Airport
Chileka Airport, Blantyre, Malawi

As my excitement grew in the airplane, I started getting nervous once we arrived at the airport. What if I was denied entrance into Malawi? I got in a long line to try to get my visa. I was nervous that immigration was going to give me a hard time. I gave in all my documents and, to my surprise, things went very smoothly! Flushed with relief, I walked out of the airport ready to start this new adventure!!

We got to Annie’s lodge, which is a wonderful little place. We took some time to drive around Blantyre. The scenery of Blantyre is so beautiful, full of mountains and plantations. I saw curious stares, friendly smiles and waves as we drove along.

Blantyre
Blantyre

Sunday was an incredible experience. We went to Blantyre Baptist church. It just so happened that Kenya’s “Sing for Africa” group was there and gave a beautiful performance. Later that night we followed the singing group to an academy. As students trickled in, they began to sing and dance. Suddenly there was a blackout but that didn’t stop anyone. We continued to sing and dance and play games in the dark! The students were filled with joy and I saw such happiness.

Monday morning our work officially started and we met with M’bwana village. Over the next couple of days we also met with Jamali and Mwazama village. We went each day to each village to talk to the women about starting the Women’s Initiative – which is an extension of the Young Women’s Initiative. We would be guiding them to start their own sustainable business. We sat on the ground and waited for all the women to get to the meeting. I was expecting a small group to turn up, but to my surprise and amazement there were over 100 women from just one village!

It was an unreal experience to be sitting with women from the village discussing problems they face and the reality of their situation. I truly feel blessed to have the opportunity to sit with these women and hear what they have to say. Malawi has been experiencing bad droughts so the villages cannot grow enough crops. The villages are facing severe climate changes, resulting in long periods of droughts or flooding. The communities face hunger, poverty and illness. The realities of the severity of the problems they face are very real and there is an urgency to help them generate income. This is where asset-based community development comes in and micro-financing their new business. The project we are working on will hopefully address those problems.

Finished product
Finished product
Village business: making soap
Village business: making soap

After hearing about all the hardships these villages are going through, I saw such strength and resilience within the communities. The women in each village all shared their excitement and motivation to work on making this new business. I really admire the sense of community the villages share. There would be five women from each village that would be involved in the business – making jewelry or soap, yet the profits made would be used for the whole community.

Jamali village started singing and clapping at the end of the meeting. The women showed us such appreciation, community and culture. It was so beautiful and moving. It is a moment I will never forget.

Malawi Children's Mission
Malawi Children’s Mission

We also met the children at Malawi Children’s Mission!!! Words can’t describe how meaningful it was to finally meet them! The children are so open and friendly and eager to learn. I could spend hours and hours playing with the children. Despite everything the children have been through, I see genuine smiles and love. When we drive up to MCM, the children come running with huge smiles. It is such a joy to be able to work and play with all the children at MCM everyday. I am so excited for the upcoming week.