Only the Lonely

eports suggesting loneliness is on the rise, are we facing a new epidemic? And are there specific social, demographic, or economic factors that are contributing to this rise? In this article, Chris Styles speaks to Jamie Bonnici from the University of Malta, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, about a 2019 study on the prevalence of loneliness among the Maltese population and if these feelings of isolation are more prevalent in certain demographics, a study which has been replicated recently as well.

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Refugee Students

Learning Diversity: A Case Study of Refugee Students in Primary School is an international project created to provide information about the unique needs of refugee students, their obstacles to success, and the interventions and good practices applied to help them. Jonathan Firbank speaks with lead coordinator, Prof. Simone Galea, about the study’s ethics, methods, and findings.

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How to do a Public Consultation

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has published a Public Consultation on the National Strategy for the Environment 2050 (NSE 2050). Public consultations allow people to express their views to lawmakers in the course of setting policy orientations and drafting legislation. Essentially the public provides feedback on the propositions presented. It is a fantastic tool for democracy if used properly.

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Have you ever felt stressed about your future when hearing about environmental issues and climate change in the news? Have you ever felt particularly anxious about the future of humanity and our planet? Well I can assure you, you are not alone. 

There is a formal term for this phenomenon: eco-anxiety. The American Psychology Association describes eco-anxiety as ’the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations.’ While this is not yet considered as a psychological illness, it can have numerous mental consequences in some people.

Martina Camilleri – photo courtesy of Jean Claude Vella

Eco-anxiety does not affect everyone in the same manner. Various studies in the last few years have shown that eco-anxiety tends to impact younger generations the most, mainly children and youths.  Surveys show that many young people rank climate change as the most significant societal problem.  In one recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health and conducted in 10 different countries among 16 to 25-year-olds, 59% of respondents stated that they are very or extremely worried, while 84% of participants said that they felt at least moderately worried. 

Moreover, the majority of respondents ‘felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty,’ about climate change. Eco-anxiety also tends to be more prevalent among people who are aware of the environment and knowledgeable on climate change. This group feels largely responsible for solving this problem that has been dumped onto its shoulders by governmental inaction and earlier generations.

This might also explain why it is quite common for young students studying in the environmental field to feel the symptoms of eco-anxiety.  As a student currently following a sustainability-related course, I am aware that it can get quite overwhelming. In fact, as part of a recent Sustainability Week on university campus, a workshop was organised to help students cope with the symptoms of eco-anxiety. While coping mechanisms vary from one individual to another, these are some things you can try out if you find yourself in a similar situation: 

  • Explore a healthy outlet to give your thoughts a break through physical exercise, meditation, and deep breathing.  
  • Share your feelings with friends or note them down in a journal.
  • Take tangible action by making small but necessary lifestyle changes.
  • Make your voice heard through lobbying, petitions, and  marching in the streets, or by joining sustainable organisations. 

Age Comes for Us All

The prospect of ageing can be terrifying, especially when it is our loved ones who are ageing before our eyes. How do we come to terms with the emotional difficulty of seeing our parents age (and in some unfortunate cases, deteriorate due to diseases), and how to broach sensitive yet crucial subjects such as their end-of-life preferences, euthanasia, and retirement preferences?

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Voluntourism: Do locals benefit as much as volunteers?

I believe we primarily choose to volunteer because of one, selfless reason: our heart. Travelling to volunteer, or voluntourism, is an emotionally enriching and rewarding experience. You’re tasting a totally different culture in all its raw authenticity, whilst ‘supporting’ someone or a community. It is gratifying; hence, there’s also a personal gain. But does volunteering actually help the local community? And do the locals benefit as much as we do? I believe there is simply no reason why both sides can’t benefit in different ways.

Annabelle Farrugia – Image courtesy of Annabelle Farrugia

Whereas organisations, volunteers themselves, and their proud (if initially worried) families often portray the commendable aspect of volunteering, attracting adventurous tourists to help rural communities has become widely criticised by the media. The local community’s eventual dependency, coupled with unskilled volunteers, are amongst the most-cited adverse aspects. 

Concerning dependency, one must question what would happen to an existing project if volunteers stopped visiting. For example, when the next pandemic hits and borders are closed again, will that newly built clinic retain the necessary equipment and staff to function within the rural community without the organisation being present? If the answer holds even a trickle of doubt, then the project has been well funded but not sustainably planned. Furthermore, we live in a predominantly individualistic society wherein a volunteer can be more concerned about their own experience, as opposed to how they’re actually contributing to the community.

However, it is also true that organisations and volunteers are striving to be more ethical and sustainable. In my opinion, unskilled volunteers are only a problem if they choose to join the wrong project. Unprepared volunteers are those who have not been well-informed about the community’s needs and how the organisation plans to achieve their goals.

Thus it is the organisation’s responsibility to foster an environment of sustainable volunteering with long-term goals, projects, and financial plans. For instance, using funds to engage permanent local staff whom volunteers can work with, rather than replace, minimises dependency and creates a collaborative work ethic for both sides. 

More importantly, in my opinion, is the individual volunteer. In asking the right questions, understanding that change occurs gradually, and more significantly, respecting the different culture by taking into account the local perspective, one is immediately more mindful of the ethical consequences of their actions.

Do the locals benefit as much as voluntourists do? I really think we’d have to ask them first. Speak to them, interact; that’s where understanding the local perspective comes in! On the other hand, I strongly believe that cross-cultural exchanges — where equitable, collaborative, and honest discussions take place, and where friendships are formed — are the most intangible assets of volunteering for both locals and volunteers. Therefore, if all the aspects of a person’s wellbeing along with sustainability are strongly being considered, the world can only benefit from more understanding and active individuals!