» It takes a village to improve someone’s Quality of Life - International Society for Quality of Life Studies - ISQOLS

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.


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