Indigenous trauma volunteers : survivors with a mission

by Moultrie, Alison

Abstract (Summary)
There is a growing body of literature on the risk for secondary trauma amongst professional trauma workers. Nonetheless, there is scant published literature on the impact of trauma work on volunteers; particularly when such volunteers are indigenous to the highly traumatized communities which they serve. The study examined a group of parents (N=16) who volunteered in a school-based trauma support project in an impoverished, gang-ridden South African urban community in which they themselves reside. Aims were to 1) Explore the psychological impact of indigenous trauma volunteerism; 2) Explore volunteers’ perceptions of costs and benefits of volunteerism.

Data collection was chiefly qualitative, using focus group and individual interviews. The Professional Quality of Life: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Subscales (Stamm, 2002) were administered in order to determine risk for burnout, risk for compassion fatigue and potential for compassion satisfaction. The Stressful Life Experiences Screening Short Form (Stamm, 1997) was administered in order to gather descriptive information regarding personal trauma histories. Project documentation was reviewed. Analysis and interpretation of qualitative data involved a combination of both etic (theory-based) and emic (data and context-based) techniques.

The volunteers’ experiences were co-constructed in interaction with three settings: 1) Experiences of training and supervision were affirming and empowering; 2) Experiences of the school context were mediated by the degree of access and integration into the school environment; 3) Experiences of the community context were mediated by the dynamics of identification, role fluidity and inter-setting negotiation.

The primary cost of involvement was distress relating to limitations on capacity to help fellow community members with whom they strongly identified, and whom they felt intrapsychically, interpersonally and socially pressured to assist. These limitations included limited client resources, limited personal resources, limited occupational resources and limited systemic resources. Other sources of distress included context-related boundary management difficulties, institutional (school-related) stressors, difficulties in persuading children to disclose abuse and material costs of volunteering. Coping was facilitated by empowering training, supervision, peer support, and self-care practices. Benefits included acquisition of psychological, interpersonal and occupational skills, improved personal relationships, social support, validation, personal healing and role satisfaction.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/2005

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