RU helps vulnerable African youth become 'Resilient'

A trainer with Resilient Kids SA helps a camper over an obstacle

A Resilient Kids SA trainer helps a child through an obstacle course, an activity that promotes encouragement, teamwork and support.

Faculty and staff from Radford University frequently make their presence known on the international stage and one project has made a difference in a place where it counts: the dangerous and poor slums of South Africa.

For the past three years Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Ruth Riding-Malon and psychology doctoral candidate Stirling Barfield have worked together to assess the work and training of natural helpers involved with Resilient Kids SA, a faith-based non-governmental organization.

Resilient Kids SA works with community-based organizations, churches and individuals to provide the training and support that enables adults and youth in a community to work with at-risk or vulnerable children.

“When we go, the NGO organizes everything,” said Riding-Malon. “What we’ve done over the last few years is evaluate their training program and how they work with orphans and vulnerable youth.”

The goal of the evaluation is to determine the impact the NGO has had and what it has effected. The research can hopefully benefit others studying psychosocial support in regions like sub-Saharan Africa.

Resilient Kids SA provides five days of training in a variety of aspects of working with vulnerable children. After completion, participants are better equipped to work with children and the issues they confront in their communities which can include loss of parents or care providers to the AIDS epidemic, crippling poverty and high incidences of violence.

According to Barfield, who is studying childhood resilience as part of her dissertation, many of the would-be counselors came from similar conditions, which greatly affect their own psyches.

“A lot of the people in the training grew up as these children,” she said. “So when you were talking to the trainers and the children there were so many psychosocial challenges for both groups.”

After experiencing the Resilient Kids SA training program and interacting with vulnerable children this summer, Riding-Malon and Barfield have returned to Radford to sort through their qualitative and quantitative data, find an evaluative instrument and determine the impact a group like Resilient Kids SA can have on a community.

Photo of Stirling Barfield, Ruth Riding-Malon and Resilient Kids SA participants.

Stirling Barfield (left) and Ruth Riding-Malon (right) smile for the camera alongside two of the participants in Resilient Kids SA training.

Assisting them in their efforts here is a mixed team of undergraduate and graduate psychology students who will parse the data and present the research for publication.

“This is all so very exciting and we did some great research over there,” Riding-Malon said. “We’re going to finish the project we’ve worked on over the past two years and now we want to see if we can make it ongoing.”

Visit the Department of Psychology website for more information on its faculty, students, programs and research.


Radford University is a comprehensive public university of more than 9,900 students. RU serves the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation through a wide range of academic, cultural, human service, and research programs. Well known for its strong faculty/student bonds, innovative use of technology in the learning environment and vibrant student life on a beautiful 191-acre American classical campus, Radford University offers students many opportunities to get involved and succeed in and out of the classroom. The university offers 69 degree programs at the undergraduate level, and 21 master's programs and three doctoral programs at the graduate level. A Division I member of the NCAA and Big South Athletic Conference, Radford participates in 19 varsity sports—11 for women and eight for men. Since 2005, the university has secured approval and funding for nearly $300 million in capital projects, including both new construction and renovation.

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Oct 2, 2013
Dan Waidelich
(540) 831-7749