This month, Lisa Kowalchuk spoke to us about her recent research project in St. James Town. Lisa is a sociology professor at the University of Guelph. This is what she had to say:
At the beginning of October, I launched a study entitled “Extracting lessons from coping with COVID-19 in St. James Town”, and I’m grateful to have been asked to provide a brief description of the study in this issue of the Newsletter. This is a small-scale, short-term, exploratory study funded by the University of Guelph, where I’m employed as a sociology professor. I recently chose to make St. James Town the major focus of my research for the next few years, after spending the previous twenty-five years looking at social life and political struggles in El Salvador – protest movements, land reform, healthcare system reform, and nurses’ working conditions. A main motivator for changing my focus to a community much closer to where I live (about a half-hour walk) is to be able to have frequent interactions with community members. In that way, the research is better able to make a positive difference in the quality of life for the community. St. James Town appeals to me because of its diversity, vibrancy, and fascinating history, all of which I have been learning more about over the past year.
I have been volunteering in a few capacities with The Corner for the past year or so, and have been very fortunate to enjoy their facilitation of the study, as well as that of the St. James Town Service Providers Network. The goal of the study on coping with COVID in St. James Town is to inform the best possible responses to needs in the community that have been amplified by the pandemic, thereby reducing the harms of the physical distancing measures in the months ahead, and being prepared to respond to similar crises in the future.
Toward that end, the study aims to identify and strengthen the “social capital” and knowledge held by residents of St. James Town, and by the personnel of agencies and organizations that serve them, to confront the present COVID-19 pandemic. “Social capital” refers to the relationships, interactions and connections between individuals, and between groups, that serve as an asset for fulfilling people’s needs and goals. These needs can range from social and emotional, such as friendship and sense of belonging, to the ability to act collectively toward shared aims, such as an election campaign team, or a tenants’ association, to material and income related goals such as finding employment.