Sunday, June 21, 2009

From Daejeon to Cleveland: A World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Odyssey

This was the first year I participated in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) events, and I did it to the hilt. WEAAD, the brainchild of Elizabeth Podnieks and the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), has been gaining momentum since its 2006 debut, capturing the imaginations of program planners around the world. INPEA’s Web site provides a glimpse of the far-flung and creative programs it has inspired.

My whirlwind WEAAD tour started on June 3 in Daejeon, Korea where I took part in a symposium on elder suicide and abuse at the Chungnam Women’s Policy Development Institute. My very genial hostess Bae Ji Yeon, a researcher in social work at the Institute, greeted me in Seoul and accompanied me by train to Daejeon, where the event took place the next day. Bae is doing research exploring the link between elder abuse and suicide. Other presenters at the symposium included Japanese researcher Kaisho Yumiko, of the University of Shimane, Japan; and Donghee Han, Director of the Research Institute of Science for the Better Living of the Elderly in Busan, Korea. Donghee also directs the Korean Information Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (KINPEA).

Following the symposium and a little sightseeing, Donghee left for Busan where she was planning another WEAAD event scheduled for the following week, and I headed downtown with Bae and Kaisho for Korean barbeque. It's wonderful to see these passionate thirty-something researchers bringing new ideas, energy, and verve to our field.

In keeping with the Eastern gift-giving tradition, I’d prepared for my trip by stocking up on Americana gifts. Figuring that nothing was more emblematic of America these days than all things Obama, my Korean and Japanese colleagues got O-emblazoned socks, candy bars, and other presidential paraphernalia.

The next day, Bae dropped me at the Daejeon train station where I caught a high-speed train for the 2-hour ride to the beautiful port city of Busan. There, Donghee took time out from WEAAD preparations to meet me and show me the sights. Which included dropping in on a class of “Internet Navigators,” a group of seniors she organized who are learning how to use computer technology to build social networks and access information. Instructor Shin Tae Won teaches ambitious software programs like Photoshop as well as social networking, which students then go on to teach other seniors. When I told the group about my Web site, they logged on and converted it into Korean. So for my new Korean readers, I wish you a warm 환영합니다 네비게이터 여러분!

In the next few days, I met Donghee’s family (Michelle, Sasha, and Malia paper dolls for younger daughter Hadam, and socks for 16-year-old Hana, who incidentally, has already decided to follow in her mother's footsteps to become a gerontologist). I also sampled lots of wonderful Korean cuisine and took 5 a.m. walks along Haeundae Beach where I joined scores of health conscious Korean elders jogging, walking, and exercising at stations set up along the beachfront. Another highlight was the annual performance of the Busan Mothers Orchestra, which was organized many years ago to reduce isolation among stay-at-home moms. The audience consisted mostly of beaming kids, who were remarkably well behaved through the lineup of Mozart, Bach, and traditional Korean folk music--except for the few who couldn't help jumping up to wave at Mom.

On Sunday, the Japanese delegation arrived for the first Japanese/Korean international roundtable on elder abuse. The group was led by Toshi Tatara, past director of the National Center on Elder Abuse, and current professor at the Shukutoku University in Chiba; and included Akiko Sasaki, professor at the Graduate School of Health Sciences at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and Noriko Tsukada, professor at the Nihon University Graduate School of Business. That afternoon, we visited the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, a tribute to the fallen soldiers from 16 countries who defended South Korea in the Korean War and the Busan fish market, which was billed in my guidebook as the smelliest fish market in the world (fortunately, the claim seemed to have been a bit overstated). That night, our hosts treated us to a feast--a prelude to the following day’s events--where we were joined by the Internet Navigators. I dodged requests to perform Karaoke and chatted with the Navigators about how they were using the Internet to keep in touch with grandchildren and finding other ways to stay involved.

The next morning we assembled at the Busan Metropolitan City Hall to meet with local officials and media reps before the WEAAD event, which featured performances by the Mothers Orchestra and traditional dance and choral groups followed by updates on abuse by the Japanese and Korean researchers. The panel was moderated by Dr. Sung Kyu Tak, who has written extensively about filial piety, the Confucian tenet of respect and duty toward parents, a value that many Koreans believe is fast eroding. Interestingly, Dr. Sung believes his work has received greater attention in the West than by Asians whom, he suspects, fear that promoting filial piety may be used as an excuse for government to relinquish responsibility for long term care. As the only non-researcher in the group, my charge was to describe abuse prevention policy and practice as well as provide an update on what’s new in the U.S.
The next morning I flew to Chiba at Toshi’s invitation to speak to a class of his graduate students at Shukutoku University. It was also a welcome opportunity to hear what Toshi has been up to since leaving the States. Among his recent accomplishments was translating the iconic National Research Council’s Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America (Bonnie & Wallace, 2003) into Japanese. The hefty 570 page English version translates to over 662 pages in Japanese and required the help of three professional translators and two years to complete. He’s since signed contracts to translate two more books for NAS, one on domestic violence and another on child abuse. He has also been working with Noriko Tsukada exploring public policy approaches to meeting Japan’s shortage of health care workers by encouraging foreign workers to come to Japan. In addition, he’s conducting a survey of domestic violence researchers to find out why there haven’t been more studies of secondary victimization of DV victims (by professionals involved with either the investigation or treatment processes).

Toshio’s students (who got tins of Obama breath mints) grilled me on everything from strategies for combating elder domestic violence to helpful hints for social work practice. In response to the latter, I advised them to abandon much of what they learned in social work school, which didn’t phase Toshi, who clearly enjoys challenging his students to question conventional wisdom and engage in open and lively debate. I genuinely appreciated the chance to brainstorm and spar with one of our field’s most creative and pioneering leaders.

The last stop on the WEAAD trail was Cleveland, Ohio, where I spoke at the Consortium Against Adult Abuse’s annual conference “Beyond the Looking Glass: Reflections of Adult Abuse, Interventions & Strategies.” I've always felt a special affinity to the Ohio Consortium since its development paralleled that of the San Francisco Consortium for Elder Abuse Prevention, and I’ve looked to them often for guidance and ideas. The conference, planned by Sylvia Pla-Rath and an education committee, clearly reflects their community’s longstanding commitment to dynamic networking and interdisciplinary exchange. The event also provided me with a chance to visit another of our field’s most respected and admired leaders, Georgia Anetzberger, who has, for nearly a quarter century, been a source of guidance, support, and inspiration.

Sadly, my WEAAD journey ended in Cleveland, and I won't be joining Elizabeth, Toshio, Donghee, Noriko, Akiko, and all the others in Paris for INPEA's official WEAAD commemoration, which takes place on July 5 in conjunction with the annual conference of the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics.

In my rush to get ready for the trip, I didn’t get around to plugging the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)’s "Join Us: Together, we have the power to prevent elder abuse” campaign, so I'll do it belatedly. The campaign included the release of an elder abuse info-ad featuring actor William Mapother of TV's Lost, which ran in movie theaters from May 22 through June 18. Each year NCEA develops materials for states and local communities. In planning the trip, I also reconnected with Arlene Groh, a Canadian consultant who specializes in restorative justice approaches to elder abuse. Arlene spoke at the 2nd KINEA WEAAD event.

I’ve always found international exchanges to be both personally and professionally enriching, and WEAAD 2009 was certainly no exception. It was a chance to meet dynamic new colleagues and renew ties with the old. So, when it's time to start gearing up for WEAAD 2010, you can definitely count me in.