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Overcoming Social Isolation – Overview Video

social connectedness symposium 2014 – toronto – IMG_5414
November 1, 2014

Perspectives on what social isolation is and how to overcome it, from around the world.


KIM SAMUEL, SAMUEL FAMILY FOUNDATION: Isolation creates a kind of paralysis in people where they don’t participate fully in society if at all, where they feel they don’t matter, nobody cares, that they live their lives outside of all circles of concern.

SCREEN: Changemakers around the world are working with communities in different contexts to combat a common experience.

That experience is isolation.

KENNEDY ODEDE, SHINING HOPE FOR COMMUNITIES: Growing up I really felt that we are isolated, we people who are living in the slums. My family, they came from a village. They came to look for a job in the city but they ended up not getting that job. So they found themselves in a place called Kibera slum. So what happened is that when you find yourself in the slum the system makes you to believe that this is where you belong.

So, first of all, as we talk about the social isolation it’s also get created in your mind and you know that, “I am poor. This is who I am. And I will never make it.”

KIM SAMUEL: If somebody feels like that it’s impossible for them to get on with the living of their lives. We can see around the world examples of societies in poverty that can’t move out. And I would submit that one of the main reasons is that they no longer have the vision or the voice to be able to do that.

RADOSVETA STAMENKOVA, BULGARIAN FAMILY PLANNING AND SEXUAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION: The most painful and the most characteristic examples of isolation in Bulgaria and the surrounding country can be found in the Roma community. They have 12, even more years of lower life expectancy than the majority in the countries.

Isolation and integration are not just notions, and sayings. They are not about the institutions and about policies. All those things are about people.

NUREDDIN AMRO, SIRAJ AL-QUDS SCHOOL: If we talk about country like Palestine, disabled people are mainly considered as burden and they, they are looked down by the community members, and even the family members.

Though they have a lot of ambitions, a lot of good skills, and a lot of potential they have the pain of being marginalized and the pain of feeling unequal with others.

TIM SHRIVER, SPECIAL OLYMPICS INTERNATIONAL: It is the single most powerful source of the destruction of the human spirit: the stigmatizing of someone as being invalid and the attempt through that stigma, either deliberate or not deliberate, to crush their spirit.

And so frequently in the history of people with intellectual differences the attempt has been successful.

LORETTA CLAIBORNE, SPECIAL OLYMPICS INTERNATIONAL: when you’re isolated you develop a depression and you wonder if you’re worthy. And I thought at one point in my life that I wasn’t worthy…of a life.

And that’s when Special Olympics had one athletic meet and swimming. I went to the first track meet and it was the first time in my life I didn’t get teased. I came home and I looked at my mom. She says, “How was it?” I said, “Man, nobody called me names. Nobody. Nobody was calling people names.” I had the best time of my life. It was like a liberation.

Sport was a vehicle that took me out of isolation

FLORENCE, KIDS COMPANY: I grew up in an abusive household and I left home when I was 16, 17. And I heard someone talking about Kids Company and like, oh, how they give you free money. And I was like, “Oh, free money’s great. Yea.”

So I went down there. And someone actually like genuinely cared. You could tell it just wasn’t their job. Just actually having that relationship to model the rest of my relationships on was really important because all the ones I had before were pretty abusive.

The only way I think to like kind of combat social isolation and people feeling like they can’t be connected with people is sustained love and care.

SANDRA THANDI TWALA, OTHANDWENI CHILDREN’S HOME: If isolation is within the house, then outside it’s more worse. So I feel that if you are isolated inside where you are coming from, within your family, then it’s more worse to be isolated outside.

Love begins at home.

PEGGY DULANY, SYNERGOS: Where trust is built, connections are strengthened, we have data that it can work. And I do believe that the issue of isolation and the importance of social connectedness is becoming clearer and that inclusive partnerships as a strategy for solution are increasingly being looked at as a way to go.

KLUANE ADAMEK, JANE GLASSCO NORTHERN FELLOWSHIP, WALTER AND DUNCAN GORDON FOUNDATION: That’s where I think it really is about creating and supporting solutions that are driven by those people who have experienced that isolation.

There’s so much opportunity to really support things that are already happening and that, you know, this is an incredible time for us to start working more collaboratively together.

OVIDE MERCREDI, MISIPAWISTIK CREE NATION: You have to have a common vision about the journey you’re going to take together. We should share a common understanding about how we’re going to walk together on this part of the earth.

SIMANGELE “SMASH” SHOYISA, CITY YEAR SOUTH AFRICA: As someone who comes from Africa we only think, “These things are happening in Africa.” And we think in America, in London everything is on a silver platter. They don’t have these issues. But the fact that now I’m aware that it’s across the world.

Sharing what works, sharing what we’ve tried, sharing how it has affected our communities I think is the best practice to deal with the issues that we are facing.

SHANTHA RAU BARRIGA, DISABILILTY RIGHTS PROGRAM, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We’re, we’re seeing movement in a number of Eastern European countries where people are actually, governments are committing themselves to moving people out of institutions.

If you take the economic point of view there, there are a lot of studies that show that institutionalization, locking up people with disabilities, is actually more costly than building and investing in community-based alternatives.

And so at the end, if you look at it from a long-term perspective it’s actually a better investment for governments to really ensure that people have the freedoms that they have a right to and actually are part of the community.

ZAINAB SALBI, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: I ended up spending 20 years of my life in war zones to help women survivors of wars. You can’t just talk to them about the concept of hope and love. You’ve got to give tangible deliveries of them. And in that regard financial talk becomes very immediate.

The international community sometimes is not aware and between advocating for these values but not in the delivery of them.

We don’t want to mess with people’s hope when, when they are vulnerable, because it’s all that people have.

CHIEF SHAWN A-IN-CHUT ATLEO, AHOUSAHT FIRST NATION: As I think about this notion of isolation where isolation has been felt has been, where there’s instances, for example, when the state took children away like my father, who were subjected to sexual and physical abuse, and whose, you know, efforts to sort of tear apart the fabric family created trauma.

You can in the middle of a city or in the middle of a loving community and have feelings of deep isolation and real searing pain.

And then the moment that you become aware of this is the moment you begin to talk about it is the moment it begins to dissolve. And it feels like a cooling salve on a burning wound.

And I believe this to be true about an individual having experienced this myself. I believe it to be true of a family. I believe it to be true of a community. I believe it to be true of a country. And I believe it to be true for people more broadly. Which is why going into those dark feelings of talking about the pain of isolation is so important.

KIM SAMUEL: Situations that are hopeless are the ones that are allowed to thrive in shadows. This is not one of those because we’re calling this out.