Sri Lanka Project a Transformative Experience for TCS Students and Faculty
| photo by Ann M. Bukowski |
Over the past four years, TCS Adjunct Professor Mike McNulty hasspent more than 300 hours by air and another 125 hours on the groundtrekking back and forth to Sri Lanka, a small island nation stillwrestling with the effects of the catastrophic tsunami that strucksouthern Asia in 2004, not to mention an ongoing civil war. When hereturned for his eighth visit this past December to continue his workdirecting the Sri Lanka Project, with him were four Chicago Schoolstudents and two fellow faculty members.
Together they journeyed to Batticaloa to continue a cause began earlierthis decade by Fr. Paul Satkunanayagam, SJ, a Chicago-trainedpsychologist who oversees the region’s Professional PsychologicalCounseling Centre (PPCC). Also waiting for Dr. McNulty and his teamwere 35 “Barefoot Counselors,” a PPCC unit of Sri Lankans who livedthrough the tsunami’s wake and continue to help hundreds of traumatizedindividuals and families. Working with Fr. Paul, the native counselorsform the nucleus of a counseling movement designed with one purpose, tohelp heal a country that witnessed entire communities swept away bynatural disaster. (Click here to read the fall 2008 edition of The Chicago School’s INSIGHT magazine, which profiles Dr. McNulty’s work.)
While in-country, the team took great effort to document their work.Dr. McNulty posted daily in his blog, “Batticaloa Journal,” which hestarted in 2005. (Click here to read.) Meanwhile, the students and faculty chronicled their travels by blogging and taking hundreds of photos. (Click here to read Dr. Kassel's blog.) (Click here for the students' Sri Lanka journal.)
Dr. McNulty admits that he didn’t know what to expect when he openedthe program to his students. There was a swift timeframe to commit anda grueling travel schedule to face—20 hours by air to the capital cityof Colombo and then a nine-hour trip across country to Kandi for twodays before arriving in Batticaloa. Participants were asked to give uptheir winter break, eat food far removed than the holiday dinners backhome, interact with a culture where few speak English, and visit sitesand communities touched by natural disaster, conflict, and poverty.Initially 23 students expressed interest in taking the Clinical Psy.D.course, with four eventually able to make the arrangements.
“I was so happy with all of them and their contributions,” said Dr.McNulty of the four. “They just jumped in and worked so hard connectingwith the counselors and orphaned children. In terms of humanisticpsychology I think is an excellent experience. To witness people insuch a traumatized area work so hard to learn counseling techniques wasinspirational. Counseling is so foreign to their culture that itslanguage lack psychological terms. They embrace counseling, not onlyfor their clients, but also for their families and themselves. Witnessing Fr. Paul working with his counselors gives counseling newmeaning to those of us who visit them.”
During their stay in Batticaloa, each student interviewed one of theBarefoot Counselors in an effort to see the practice of counseling fromtheir perspective. This exercise was particularly poignant given thatmost of the paraprofessional counselors shared the same experiences oftrauma and loss as the people they help. The students spent the rest oftheir days working with three other PPCC programs: Children’s Homes,which is a network of homes which serve 200 orphaned children; the“Cuckoo’s Nest,” a comprehensive rehabilitation program for 50 ex-childsoldiers; and the Butterfly Peace Garden, an internationally renownedexpressive arts program for traumatized children.
For Ashley Knoll, one of the second-year students to make the trip, Sri Lanka was a transformative experience.
“Prior to leaving for Sri Lanka, I had hoped that I would be able tomake an impact on the lives of those whom I would be working
|Second-year Clinical Psy.D. student Ashley Knoll |
plays game with Sri Lankan children.
with,”said Knoll. “However, I was not expecting the lasting impression thatthey made upon me. I met children and counselors with amazingresilience and a strong desire to serve others who have endured similarhardships. It is my hope that through my personal and professionalcareer that I can attain the same amount of strength and passion of allwho I met. They were truly inspirational.”
To help build a training program that will live on and becomeself-sustainable, TCS faculty members Mark Kassel and Drake Spaeth alsomade the trip.
“I felt honored to be teaching and working with these gentle and humble‘wounded healers’ [Barefoot Counselors] who have themselves sufferedgreat personal losses of loved ones and property through war andthrough the tsunami,” said Dr. Spaeth, assistant professor of clinicalcounseling. “The fact that TCS sent a team of faculty and students isevidence of its sincere commitment to diversity and to servingunderserved communities. The counseling field is practically brand newin Sri Lanka, dating from events in 2004 when the tsunami hit. We areteaching them about theories, research, and techniques of counselingfor the first time.”
Dr. Kassel, the school’s associate director of curriculum andinstructional design, used the experience to inform his efforts tobuild an online learning platform and curriculum that will be used bythe counselors as they continue their studies. The next class beingdeveloped for the program is Lifespan Psychology.
It is Dr. McNulty’s hope that the program will eventually beincorporated into a University in Batticaloa, which will formallyrecognize the certification of the counselors—allowing allow them tosupervise others and expand a profession in urgent need.
Back in the states, the students presented on their experiencein Sri Lanka at an open forum at the Chicago Campus.
“Touching the hearts of the children and counselors in Sri Lanka hasmade such a positive impact on my personal and professional interests,”said Melissa Jajko, who will join Knoll and fellow second-year studentsAdam Harrison and Ann Bukowski at the event. “Having the opportunity toclosely interact with the counselors was a memorable experience.Listening to their life stories and reflecting on the hardships theyhave faced has inspired my own journey in becoming a clinician workingtoward social justice. Walking in the footprints of those individualswho have been exposed to war-related violence and natural disastertruly illustrates the power of resiliency and self-determination. Thisexperience exemplifies the importance of reaching beyond the scope ofyour comfort and making a difference in the lives of others.”
For more information about the Sri Lanka Project, email Dr. McNulty at email@example.com