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Resilient Responses of Nations to Adversities

Learn more about resilient responses of countries to adversities.

Image for decorative purposes. A map of the world with different countries and populations of interest highlighted.A map of the world with different countries and populations of interest highlighted.

WARNING: Please be aware that this learning activity contains examples which some students may find distressing. This step can be skipped as it does not contain any essential learning material and is intended to illustrate other concepts discussed in this week’s content.

There are a multitude of potential adaptations that may occur in response to adversities. Below are some examples of how individuals in different contexts have displayed resilience and positively adapted to potentially traumatic events.

USA (Alaska) - Indigenous Communities

Adults and Elders view their culture as something that transcends time, space and distinct cultural activities. This allows them to see themselves as part of a wider context and leads to community problems common in indigenous communities, such as youth suicide and substance abuse, being framed as expressions of social suffering (Wexler, 2014). This framing allows adults and Elders to tackle issues based on intergenerational and cultural strengths and practices.

USA - Gay Latino Immigrants

Community connectedness is an important factor in coping with adversity. Being a part of the gay community can provide a sense of self-worth and validation. However, tension can also arise due to the ‘expected behaviour’ within the community, as well as a disconnect due to ethnic background as the gay community is seen as ‘white and privileged’ (Gray et al., 2015).

Similar benefits, tensions and feelings of connectedness and disconnectedness affect gay Latino immigrants in terms of how they relate to the wider Latino community. Shared culture, as well as shared challenges, such as socioeconomic barriers and discrimination, create a sense of connectedness. However, discriminatory views towards non-heterosexual people within the Latino community can create tension and may lead to gay Latino immigrants feeling disconnected from this group.

Palestine – Young People

Resilience is centred around the concept of ‘sumud’, which can be defined as ‘the determination to exist through being steadfast and rooted to the land’ (Nguyen-Gillham et al., 2008). Participating in the collective fight for Palestinian statehood shapes the identity of young people. Small actions of resistance, such as taking part in protests and throwing rocks at Israeli soldier, or attending school and gaining education, provide them with a feeling of power and control over their own lives, but also with a sense of a hopeful future for their people (Ungar et al., 2007).

South Africa – Cancer Patients

The concept of ‘ukwamukela’ has been found to be a key aspect of resilience and coping with trauma. The concept of ‘ukwamukela’ represents an acceptance that nothing could be done about the symptoms and illness they were experiencing (Kim et al., 2019). Cancer patients also believe that ‘ukwamukela’ protects them from further distress and exacerbated symptoms.

One of the participants in Kim and colleagues’ study described the concept of ‘ukwamukela’ as:

“You think about things that aren’t quite good for your health, like things that you can’t get hold of or things you can’t own, or you live in other people’s shadows, or I want to be like but I’m not able to. If you stop thinking about the impossibilities and accept life as it comes, then things will get better.” – (Kim et al., 2019)

Japan – Survivors of Nuclear Disaster

Due to the prolonged nature of the evacuation and the associated loss of community, social support has been found to be an important mediator of resilience. This is observed in the form of having good relationships with both members of the pre-evacuation community and of the new community individuals were evacuated to (Takebayashi et al., 2020). The ability to cope with stigma related to having been exposed to radiation was also found to be an important factor for resilience.

Rwanda – Survivors of Genocide-Rape

WARNING: Reference to rape and sexual assault

The process of resilience in this population is patterned by three culturally specific concepts (Zraly & Nyirazinyoye, 2010):

Kwihangana Kwongera kubaho Gukomeza ubuzima
Intrapsychic creative process of drawing strength from within the self in order to withstand suffering. The re-establishment of the fundamental existential conditions of being. In other words, that living life is still possible after many terrorising experiences of rape and torture. A sense of moving forward in life and living on despite the ongoing struggles of accepting myriad problems and fighting for survival.

Afghanistan – Families

Family cohesiveness and wellbeing, as well as collective resilience, are key in allowing Afghans to cope with potentially traumatic events and other life challenges (Panter-Brick & Eggerman, 2012). Family ‘harmony’ and ‘unity’, ‘ittifaq’ and ‘wahdat’, respectively, in Dari, seem to support better wellbeing.

From your own reading, can you identify any other responses to adversities?

A note on cross-cultural research on resilience and PTSD

When studying other cultures, there is often a tendency to expect these cultures to be internally homogenous, as well as being separate and distinct from other cultures. Naïve assumptions of sameness, for example-not all white children share the same culture, values, or beliefs, can make researchers blind to important differences that may exist within populations (Van de Vijver & Leung, 1997).


Evans-Campbell, T. (2008). Historical trauma in American Indian/Native Alaska communities: A multilevel framework for exploring impacts on individuals, families, and communities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(3), 316-338. doi:10.1177/0886260507312290

Kim, A. W., Kaiser, B., Bosire, E., Shahbazian, K., & Mendenhall, E. (2019). Idioms of resilience among cancer patients in urban South Africa: An anthropological heuristic for the study of culture and resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry, 56(4), 720-747.

Nguyen-Gillham, V., Giacaman, R., Naser, G., & Boyce, W. (2008). Normalising the abnormal: Palestinian youth and the contradictions of resilience in protracted conflict. Health & Social Care in the Community, 16(3), 291-298. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2524.2008.00767.x

Panter-Brick C., Eggerman M. (2012) Understanding culture, resilience, and mental health: The production of hope. In: Ungar M. (eds) The Social Ecology of Resilience. (pp. 369-386) Springer, New York, NY.

Ungar, M. (2013). Resilience, trauma, context, and culture. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 14(3), 255-266. doi:10.1177/1524838013487805

Van de Vijver, F. J., Leung, K., & Leung, K. (1997). Methods and data analysis for cross-cultural research (Vol. 1). Sage.

Wexler, L. (2014). Looking across three generations of Alaska natives to explore how culture fosters indigenous resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry, 51(1), 73-92. doi:10.1177/1363461513497417

Zraly, M., Nyirazinyoye, L. (2010) Don’t let the suffering make you fade away: An ethnographic study of resilience among survivors of genocide-rape in southern Rwanda. Social Science & Medicine, 70(10), 1656–1664.

© University of Glasgow
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