Warren Kinghorn (Psychiatry and Divinity, Duke University)

Kathryn Whetten (Public Policy and Global Health, Duke University)

Jen’nan Read (Sociology and Global Health)

Augustine Wasonga (ACE Africa – Kenya)

Mao Lang (Meahto Phum Ko'mah, Cambodia).

Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell (PI) (Global Health, Duke University)

Corey Keyes (Sociology, Emory University)

David Eagle (Health Policy, Duke University)

Ira Madan (Sahara Centre for Residential Care and Rehabilitation, India)

Misganaw Eticha (Stand for Vulnerable Organization, Ethiopia)

In 1993, Maggy Barankitse, while working for a Catholic bishop in Burundi, witnessed the murders of 72 people in the bishop’s residence. She took in the children orphaned by this event and created an organization dedicated to caring for orphans. After four exhausting years, she retreated to a Carmelite monastery to rest and pray. When she returned to her work, she did so confident that the future rested with God and not with what she could accomplish on her own. She built a swimming pool and movie theater to teach the children that they were human beings, not just victims of violence. Her organization has served more than 40,000 children.

How do caregivers like Ms. Barankitse who frequently witness sadness or suffering sustain their own flourishing mental health, while providing excellent care? What role do religious beliefs and practicing the virtues have in how caregivers manage to live well? What do flourishing caregivers do and think that is the same, or different, across countries and religious traditions?

Our interdisciplinary team from Duke University and Emory University will conduct qualitative interviews with orphan caregivers in India, Nagaland, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Cambodia to answer these questions. These caregivers will be of different religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and of varying levels of positive mental health (i.e., flourishing versus low). In addition to in-depth interviews, we will ask the caregivers to complete a daily diary and journal about a difficult and a positive experience, and what they did and thought about it. The in-depth interviews will allow us to explore caregivers’ conscious thoughts about mental health, whereas the daily diaries will reveal potentially important routines related to positive mental health, even if the caregivers cannot articulate them as such. We will compare the thoughts, practices, and contextual conditions of caregivers with flourishing versus low mental health.

We will identify the pathways that allow caregivers to sustain flourishing mental health while working effectively with orphaned children, including examining specifically whether and how caregivers draw on religious beliefs and practices to sustain them in caregiving. We will further identify how caregivers interpret and embody virtues, which are habits of thought and action that have become “second nature,” and which may sustain caregiving behavior. This information will help caregivers and their employers create conditions and practices to promote the positive mental health of caregivers. Flourishing mental health of caregivers, in turn, will benefit care-receivers, such as children. 

In addition to our practical recommendations, we will bring our new religion- and virtues-informed understanding of caregiving to enhance researchers’ conceptualization of two academic frameworks. Specifically, regarding the Challenge-Hindrance Stressor Framework, we will clarify how religious caregivers conceptualize “rewards” which can lead to perceiving a stressor favorably and therefore promote positive mental health. Regarding the framework of compassion satisfaction, which focuses on pleasure from work-related experiences, we will understand not just work but also the fuller context of a caregiver’s life, including religious beliefs and virtuous practices and their relationship to the caregiver’s positive mental health.

Visit Stand for Vulnerable Children's website.

Visit ACE Africa's website.