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September 30, 2018

It takes a village to improve someone’s Quality of Life

Written by Jessica De Maeyer

International summer school Uganda – Fort Portal 17th – 31st August 2018: Improving Quality of Life through Quality of Care

On August 17th 2018 we left with 17 students and a team of lecturers of University College Ghent (Faculty of Health, Education and Social Work) to Uganda, the pearl of Africa. We started our adventure and left Belgium behind to discover the daily life of Fort Portal, a town in the Western region of Uganda in the seat of Kabarole District and the Toro Kingdom. The summer school was organized  together with the staff of Mountains of the Moon University, a community university, with a strong emphasis on challenges and involvement of important stakeholders in the community. A third partner was the International Association on the Scientific Studies on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IASSIDD), who sent some of their experts in the field of disability to share knowledge and experiences in supporting people with disabilities in a Sub-Saharan African country.

The Summer School consisted of a 2-week program with lectures, community visits and group activities designed to give students opportunities to learn how Quality of Care can improve the Quality of Life of different target groups. Specific target groups were young people living with HIV/AIDS, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and ageing people. The Summer School aimed at bachelor students who have acquired at least 60% of their study program. The central aim of the summer school was to foster interdisciplinary and intercultural learning for students within the broad study fields of Health, Nursing, Speech Therapy, Social Work, (Special Needs) Education, Dietetics & Nutrition and Occupational Therapy. The Summer School program was based on co-operative group work, including different disciplines, cultures and nationalities. Twenty Ugandan students, together with a Ugandan team of lecturers, took the challenge together with the Belgian team to work for two weeks as an interdisciplinary and intercultural group to scrutinize the practice-based research question: “How can community-based care promote the Quality of Life of people living in socially vulnerable situations?”. Reflections were made on how Quality of Life as a universal concept, consists of both etic and emic properties and what aspects made their life of Quality, but also how the daily support they offered to people in socially vulnerable situations had an impact on the Quality of Life of their clients and what outcomes they were trying to achieve. During the summer school we worked on the assumption how Quality of Life can be used as a holistic, intercultural and intersectoral framework in the support of people in vulnerable situations. Reflective sessions were organized where we discussed how their own frame of reference had an impact on their definition of ‘a good life’, how to integrate conflicting disciplinary and cultural insights and viewpoints and how those affect their role as a professional. The theme of this summer school, Quality of Life through Quality of Care relates well to the situation of people wherein multilevel influences affect their Quality of Life. Consequently, support needs should be tailored to the specific environmental conditions and contexts.

Therefore, participatory action research, with a focus on community development, was the leading principle in participants’ work.  Several community visits were planned to the following organizations in Fort Portal: YAWE – Youth and Women Empowerment (service for people with HIV/AIDS), Fort Portal Hospital, Congregation of the sisters of Saint Theresa (Elderly home for sisters), Kyaninga Child Development Centre, SOS Child Villages, Christ AID (community service for ageing people) and the Local Radio Station of the university. Through involving these community organizations and creating opportunities for interaction between their representatives and the students, mutual learning occurred. Students visited these organizations, inquired about their work, learned about their vision and mission, integrated this in their assignment and presented their integrated findings to the community organizations at the end of the summer school. These organizations also learned from the work undertaken by the interdisciplinary and intercultural groups in search of answers to the wicked problem they are engaged with in their daily practice (i.e. realizing quality of care and promoting quality of life for ageing people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS). The representatives from the organizations were involved in the formal evaluation of the students and participated in questioning the students on the learning outcomes presented and engaged in a critical debate on the topics covered during the summer school.

Students extended their cultural, disciplinary and personal boundaries by participating in the summer school and by traveling to, learning and cooperating in a global south context. Academic learning outcomes were hence obtained in areas of intercultural competences, reflective competences, interdisciplinary functioning, research competences and knowledge of wicked problems appropriate to interdisciplinary inquiry. A participant of the summer school quoted Paolo Coelho to express her experiences about the summer school: Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.


And finally, individuals’ personal Quality of Life was improved by being embedded in the daily life in the pearl of Africa, and experiencing the hospitality, challenges, African thunderstorms, unexpected practical and time constraints, and the beauty of it all. They closed the summer school with some collaborative African dancing in the real world on the tunes of French Montana’s ‘Unforgettable’.

A next edition of the summer school will be organized in August 2019.


Jessica De Maeyer, coordinator of the Centre of Expertise on Quality of Life, University College Ghent, Belgium.


Bio: Jessica De Maeyer holds a doctoral degree from the Department of Orthopedagogics, Ghent University (Belgium).  In 2010 she successfully defended her PhD on Quality of Life of opiate-dependent individuals after starting methadone maintenance treatment.  From 2012 to date she is lecturer at the department of Orthopedagogy, Ghent University College. Since 2014 she is coordinator of the Centre of Expertise on Quality of Life (E-QUAL) at the Faculty of Education, Health and Social Work, Ghent University College. In this interdisciplinary centre she coordinates different projects to implement the concept of Quality of Life as in interdisciplinary framework within different target groups and sectors. Besides, she is coordinator of the academic workplace “Community-based Care and Support”, that focuses on changes in the current support paradigm of people in vulnerable situations.


July 28, 2018

ISQOLS Conference 2018: Making Connections


ISQOLS Conference 2018: Making Connections
Author: Chelsea Maupin
July 25, 2018







I am fortunate to know Dean Rhonda Phillips, PhD through the Honors College at Purdue University. Coursework I took which focused on sustainability led me to explore and questions what “sustainability” really means. Community’s cooperation and collective wellbeing, not solely economic indicators, is certainly a component of long-term success and happiness of communities. Realizing that Dean Phillips is a great resource on these topics and many others (e.g. agriculture, urban planning, quality-of-life studies, community development, and the list goes on), I set up a meeting to hear about her career. As one who connects the right people to the right resources, Dean Phillips invited me to be a part of the joint grant initiative of “Community Wellbeing and Community Development: Connection Across Organizations and Interests”, which I presented with Dr. Craig Talmage and Dr. Kai Ludwigs at the 2018 ISQOLS conference in Hong Kong (thanks also goes to ISQOLS Director Jill Johnson). In short, the grant seeks to increase collaboration and shared memberships between ISQOLS and the Community Development Society. I saw the practical overlap of the two scholarly groups as I conducted my senior research project looking at quality of life benefits within GrowLocal Urban Garden Network, a community development project based in community gardens spaces in Lafayette, Indiana.

I’m an avid traveler and lover of food and culture. Visiting Manila added to my international experience and understanding. We weren’t solely visitors to Manila; we were guests hosted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) and their wonderful researchers and staff. That same morning, ABS News published one

of SWS’s statistics that the majority of Filipinos are satisfied with democracy, but that the statistic had dropped two percentage points since the year before in June 2017.

An introduction to SWS’s important quality of life and polling statistics research was paired with delicious Filipino food, and later included a tour of the city. Thankfully, SWS had enough umbrellas to keep us dry, as monsoon season had started the previous week. Our hosts were also our resources, answering questions about quality of life and wellbeing research in the Philippines while sharing their culture.


One great set of hosts transferred to the next as we traveled to Hong Kong for the conference at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Roughly two hours on the plane led to a change of scenery, culture, food, and pace of life. I landed hungry and exhausted. A plan to find a quick bakery bite to bring back to my hotel turned into sitting at a shared table in a crowded noodle restaurant for one of the best meals I remember: piping hot noodles with tofu and pork wrapped in bean curd. Simple and delicious. The good eats continued into the conference to fuel thoughts and discussion and the international teams networked and shared resources. All sessions I attended offered new insights, through focusing on different areas of quality of life research. My first experience meeting face-to-face with my co-presenter Dr. Talmage was during a ride up the Peak Tram in Hong Kong, an old rail car which rides to the top of Victoria Peak for an amazing view over the harbor—I went again to see the view during daylight. Exploring a new city together: there’s little I can think of as a better way to get to know one’s colleagues, and to make friends.

There are a lot of opportunities for inspiration for one’s own research at the conference. For example, I hope to work with farmers and communities internationally as a career, and I’m especially interested in urban agriculture and quality of life. I heard about Dr. Frances Kam Yuet Wong’s research “The Impact of Green Space and Neighborhood Environment on the Quality of Life of Residents in Hung Hom, Hong Kong.” Access to green space and improved wellbeing resurfaced in my life just this week through an NPR article “Replacing Vacant Lots with Green Spaces Can Ease Depression in Urban Communities,” highlighting research published by South et al. in the Journal of the American Medical Association. I heard also from Samra Abdić‘s presentation “Will Healthy Eating Make You Less Happy? A Review of the Literature on the Effect of Food on Happiness.” Dr. Alex C. Michalos mentioned at the end of his keynote presentation that he would like to see more food and quality of life research represented at the conference. That excites me. I can see myself coming back to do a solo-presentation of my own research in the future! ISQOLS represents research globally, and the group has space to add more interests and topics to the conference as understanding of wellbeing expands.

It was wonderful to see such diversity represented by this body of scholars and researcher, all of whom strive to increasing understanding of how to help others to lead the best lives possible. Being a part of the ISQOLS conference and pre-conference trip has hugely expanded my resources and experience to contribute to the many fields which work to enhance quality of life worldwide. I am grateful to have been invited into this community of scholars.


Special thanks to those who made this opportunity possible – Rhonda Phillips, Jill Johnson, Craig Talmage, Kai Ludwigs, Social Weather Stations, PolyU, Purdue Undergraduate Research office and grants, and folks through the University of Kentucky’s Community Innovation Lab.


Short Bio:

Chelsea Maupin is an alumnus from Purdue University with a BSc in Horticulture: Sustainable Food and Farming Systems and a minor in International Studies in Agriculture. Her immediate post-graduate employment is through a Fulbright grant to teach English in Vietnam for one school year. She will return to the U.S. to continue her education through graduate school, or through internships or apprenticeships to gain more hands-on farming skills. She plans to study, and later hold a career in, International Agriculture Development.


Chelsea was the recipient of the Community Development Society (https://www.comm-dev.org/) Innovative Community Engagement Grant, as part of a joint project with ISQOLS. Click here to learn more about this project

March 27, 2017

The Beauty of Cultural Diversity

by Tithi Bhatnagar

Research in the area of quality-of-life, especially Subjective Well-Being asserts that culture is a very critical context that determines happiness, subjective well-being, quality-of-life, and life satisfaction of individuals. It is so much ingrained into our beings that we are not able to appreciate it unless we are separated from it. Leading a regular, a uniform life makes living monotonous and sad. It is like breathing and not living. Cultural diversity adds the flavor to life, the zeal to live, and an adventure.

How wonderful to say the same thing in different accents, and then try to identify the part of earth the individual comes from; the different symbolic meaning of similar actions; the same word and varied cultural connotations attached to it; and the list goes on and on.

ISQOLS Seoul Conference Participants



Imagine all of us living within the same architecture, wearing the same dresses and speaking the same language! Run your imagination and you get an error message - life suddenly becomes black and white.  If we were to go back to the way we were raised - imagine the various local celebrations, festivals, and special food of special occasions, community traditions - suddenly our vision becomes all so colorful. I always believe and research supports that the best way to pass traditions and values to children is through sharing folktales. They learn much faster and retain the concepts in their long-term memory in this way. The icing on the cake is ‘learning becomes fun’. It is true that we are all one as human beings.  However, along with individual differences, it is these cultural variations that make life beautiful and meaningful.  These different hues add the necessary brightness and purpose that motivates the will in individuals to lead a good life.


The fast pace of life today makes it very challenging to meet daily chores. What is important to maintain our levels of well being perhaps is creating as many experiences as possible. To laugh as much as we can, to create memories, cherish them later, meet as many people with diverse background and learn from each other’s culture, to never miss a travel opportunity. We grow when we appreciate diversity and understand the common thread that binds us all one as humans.


Last years’ annual ISQOLS conference at Seoul is a wonderful example of my experience of beauty in cultural diversity. What was remarkable was that we were all one and yet so different. This observation was very much in line with the trail of my thoughts that originated when I got down at the Incheon International Airport. The airport, the Bus Shuttle Gates, all were so similar to what we have in big cities back home. When I was on the bus, the buildings that I saw and the kind of roads, all reminded me of Gurgaon (the current city of my residence). I was happy and appreciated Globalization. With this, it is easy to move to new and unknown places. Everything looks so familiar and similar. A visit to the city of Seoul was what brought a beautiful insight. Be it the Palace, the traditionally attired young girls who looked like dolls at the Palace gate, or the market, or the stupendous colorful Namsan Tower, all very clearly pointed out the beauty of cultural diversity. There was warmth of the South Korean culture in particular, and that of Asia in general. Every place speaks about its history, heritage, traditions, and teaches us something. The experience is what keeps us going. It helps to stay connected to our roots. This creates a powerful reservoir of positive emotions and keeps us going when we feel low. We should keep being happy to move on the path of exploring this journey further and in-depth.


Tithi Bhatnagar is from Gurgaon, India. She is the Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of School of Humanities and Social Science (SoHSS) at G.D.Goenka University. She can be reached at bhatnagartithi@gmail.com.

February 27, 2017

What Backpacking Teaches About Quality of Life


by John de Graaf


Two years ago, my friend Stefano Bartolini, a professor at the University of Siena, invited me to address a Quality of Life conference in Florence.  I was honored, but a bit taken aback.  It seemed like I was being asked to teach Tiger Woods to play golf.  After all, what could I say of value to people in Tuscany, the place that practically invented quality of life.  But I wasn’t going to pass up a trip to Florence.  My message was simple: whatever you do, don’t listen to those people who want you to copy the Americans!  You have found a balanced life here and that’s what matters.

As a writer, speaker, activist and filmmaker, I’ve found that metaphor helps drive home the messages about the importance of quality of life that underlie all of my work.  The most popular of these has been “Affluenza,” the idea that we in the rich world suffer from a disease of overconsumption.  That metaphor, which I popularized but did not create—there are references to the term as far back as 1815—propelled a popular film and a best-selling book now out in its third edition and in nine languages.

I’d like to propose another metaphor for thinking about achieving and measuring a high quality of life.  I think of it as the backpacking theory of wellbeing.

I didn’t realize it at the time but the most important lessons in my life didn’t come from kindergarten, or school at all for that matter.  They came from jaunts into the High Sierra mountains of California, beginning when I was 11 years old.  That year, and for several thereafter, my father took me backpacking to Yosemite National Park.  At first, I looked like a hunchback, bent over under the weight of far too many “necessities”—axe, heavy tent, cans of food—that didn’t turn out to be necessary at all.

By the end of my first year in high school, my father was convinced that we knew what we were doing, and drove my best friend and I to Yosemite to go backpacking on our own.  We weren’t yet 15.   Every summer afterwards until I left for college, I spent several happy weeks with friends hiking Sierra trails and hitchhiking between trailheads. It was a blessed childhood, full of the best kind of freedom, which my parents gave me instead of a lot of meaningless toys.

Backpacking teaches you about what matters in life.  Each time we started a trip, we had to make decisions.  That air mattress might be comfortable, but it’s an extra couple of pounds.  That stove that made cooking easier but weighed another pound wasn’t necessary when our camps were below timberline.

Dead wood breaks easily when you hit it over a rock so you don’t need an axe.  I was learning that you can be happy with very little.  More isn’t always better when you must carry it on your back.

You may want the items but you don’t want the weight.

You learn balance from backpacking.  It’s a good lesson.  Not just for you and me, but for our world.  Balance is fundamental to a high quality of life.  For the ancient Greeks, it was that fine point between luxury and deprivation.  Buddhism encourages its followers to reduce their wants to be happy.  Christ commanded his to lighten their material burdens.

But our modern consumer cultures, especially mine, the United States, forget that.  For us, bigger is better and biggest is best.  If something is a good thing, we surmise, then the more of it the better.    There’s no such thing as enough.  You might think of our societies as backpackers with loads that keep growing without limit, so we fall over backwards, flailing like upturned beetles, unable to free ourselves, unhappy despite our great wealth.

We are way out of balance, too rich in stuff and hubris, desperately poor in connection, health, compassion, beauty, leisure time and self-reflection.  Rich in what we measure, poor in what we don’t.  Our Gross Domestic Product tells us that life is getting better—indeed, the grosser the better.  But our life satisfaction levels are flat and for many, our mental health is frightening.

When we keep adding to our backpack, the GDP goes up, and it doesn’t matter what we buy.  If money is spent on it, then something is a good and counts.  An oil spill adds more to GDP—with cleanup and legal bills—than if the oil makes it safely to the refinery.  By contrast, so many of greatest satisfactions add nothing to GDP—good health is worth far less than healthcare, for example.  It’s a waste of time as far as GDP is concerned.

Poverty, especially amid plenty, is not a source of happiness.  Many of our societies are filled with have littles, whose lives would be enhanced by better food, shelter, clothing, education, health care and financial security.  But instead, for the past generation, we’ve shifted more and more wealth to the already rich.

To learn the lessons to backpacking, to live in balance, would require much greater equality in our world, but as importantly it demands a change in values, an understanding that the best things in life aren’t things.

On the trails of my youth, we had no iPods or cellphones.  A deck of cards provided all the games we needed.  We made our own music, with songs around the campfire.  We had so little but so much.  With lighter packs, we moved gracefully, finding ourselves out of breath only on the steepest grades.  We were free.  We had time to be, time to think.  We had friendship and we walked in beauty, as the Navajos say.  We had quality of life.

My life has been devoted to spreading, in one form or another, the lessons of my childhood backpack trips. Most recently, I’ve been involved with the Happiness Alliance (www.happycounts.org), in an effort to promote alternatives to GDP. I’m delighted to be part of ISQOLS, an organization that knows what really matters.


John's son with his backpack in Yosemite




John de Graaf, a documentary filmmaker, is the co-author of AFFLUENZA and WHAT’S THE ECONOMY FOR ANYWAY? and co-founder and communications director the Happiness Alliance.  He has taught at The Evergreen State College in Washington State and can be reached at jodg@comcast.net



Note: portions of this article appeared in Sierra magazine online.

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