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Indelible: A Social Worker in the Wake of Civil War-bookcover

By: Wendy Nordick

Indelible: A Social Worker in the Wake of Civil War

Pages: 248 Ratings: 4.9
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Driven by a long-standing desire, her education and her faith, mental health professional, Wendy Nordick, and her husband Bill Blair, a retired judge, plunged into a two-year assignment with Canadian University Services Overseas. She believed her 25 years of clinical social work were appropriate credentials to help a country with the highest rates of suicide in the world. Bill hoped to work for peace and justice. They felt they became laughingstocks when work visa delays left them homeless. Days before leaving, Wendy’s father died. Once in Sri Lanka, she shivered in a rickety beer factory cum hospital where she taught mental health skills. A year later, she was transported into steamy, bombed out Jaffna, the epicenter of a civil war to teach a trauma team who worked with the war affected and tortured during the war. She was humbled by what she did not know and sought help from a previous refugee. 

Wendy Nordick holds a PhD and practiced social work for 25 years in acute care psychiatry and mental health in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. She has published academic journal articles and is a member of a local writing group. She is a lover of literature. As a life-long learner, she is tackling the intricacies of bridge, and meets her need for fresh air with skiing, pickleball, cycling and hiking. She and her husband, Bill, love adventure and have visited more than 40 countries. Scuba diving is a thrilling aspect of their travels. A mother of five children and two stepchildren, she delights in her 11 grandchildren.

Customer Reviews
31 reviews
31 reviews
  • Mountain Momma BB

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Wendy is one amazing lady! I felt her passion, her frustrations, and her incredible drive to make a difference . There are not a lot of people in the world that would even attempt to do what Wendy and her husband accomplished but if we could all do 10% of that, even just in our own communities, the world would be a better place that's for sure. Thank you for sharing your experiences. They were very inspirational and I will enjoy re-reading your stories for years to come.

  • Maybelle Nordick (Wendy's Mother)

    Wendy, In spite of your own struggle to raise five children and get your education all on your own, you did it. In spite of the loneliness, language cultural problems, and poverty experienced in Sri Lanka, you always kept your faith. Thank you Wendy for your love and care for me. I am so proud of you, Wendy. Every mother should have a daughter like you.

  • Leslie Hall

    This book is a great read – for many reasons. It is descriptive of the many situations to be faced when choosing to volunteer abroad. There will be issues of separation, communication, diet, climate, standard of living and feelings of inadequacy. Wendy Nordick and her husband, Bill faced them all. Her account is lively and honest. The book covers the following:
    - The pre-assignment process specific to CUSO/VSO
    - The observation period before real work can start. (Two months in the first of the two locations.)
    - Understanding the weight of needs to be met. (Mental health treatment)
    - Forging working relationships. (Translation, obtaining supplies, learning the customs)
    - Struggling to make sustainable changes. (Where is an infusion of skill and knowledge going to be effective?)
    The reader shares Wendy and Bill’s journey, in all its wonder, frustration, entertainment and satisfaction.

  • S Pope

    This book by Wendy Nordick is an amazing read. Why? Because it is about an intense, courageous and spiritual period in a person’s life. I’ve known about the CUSO programs but haven’t explored what it might be like to take part. Through the eyes of Wendy, and her husband Bill, I learned about the history, politics, and post-civil war life of the citizens of Sri Lanka. This book is part travel-writing, memoir, and a personal journey. I was deeply moved and inspired by the story and determination of the author to use her professional skills to make the world a better place. I was captivated and read the book quickly.

  • Gail MacKean

    I found this memoir to be both a fascinating and emotional read. Wendy describes her and her husband Bill’s experience volunteering for CUSO in Sri Lanka, starting with the application process to volunteer. This clearly is not a venture for the faint of heart. I was drawn in from the start and followed the compelling story that Wendy so skillfully weaves. A particular strength of this memoir is her honesty about the realities of volunteering in a country where people have, and continue to, experience great hardship. And where values, beliefs, and lived experience can be so different from her own. Wendy talks about her concerns about the sustainability of her volunteer efforts, and at times wonders whether she is doing more harm and good. I appreciate this honesty, and I won’t give away the ‘punch line’. I do like the way Wendy describes the impact she has likely had, and how this has been achieved – as she now reflects on the time she spent in Sri Lanka a decade ago. In this era, where there is valid criticism of ‘volunteer tourism’, I found Wendy’s story and insights refreshing. If you like memoirs, and have any interest in international volunteering, this book is a must read.


  • Brigadier General (retired) Glenn Nordick, OMM, MSC, CD

    My sister Wendy Nordick’s book “INDELIBLE – a social worker in the wake of Civil War” is an excellent read, despite my brotherly bias. Before retirement I spent 40 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as an Infantry Officer and was deployed on UN peacekeeping operations, peace enforcement operations and wars (First Gulf War and Afghanistan), alongside various UN, Multinational and NGO organizations. I have also been responsible for preparing and training units and formations for overseas deployment. Finally I also some first hand experience on the personal and collective trauma that armed conflict can impose on both participants and on those dealing with the aftermath of conflict.

    In her Prologue, and throughout the book, Wendy talks about the importance of her Roman Catholic faith. Although raised in the same tradition, I have become a skeptic. Having witnessed the evil humans can inflict on humans based on differences of ethnicity, religion, and race, I now, unfortunately, view religion as one of the causes rather than a solution to conflict. As Wendy has related, there was little compassion to be found in the Sri Lankan Civil War. That said, I am still glad Wendy found solace and strength in her religion.

    I loved seeing Sri Lanka through the eyes of Wendy and Bill. Wendy’s travelogue writing style was excellent. As an avid traveller, I share the wonder of Westerners when they realize the world is full of complex and valid cultures, geography, climate, wildlife, food and living conditions that bear no resemblance to home. Although being immersed in a sink or swim situation is tough, dealing with new and unusual conditions with humour and a sense of amazement always makes the experience worthwhile.

    Wendy’s book, also highlighted the importance of family to those deployed in unfamiliar places and stressful situations. Biological family can sometimes only be a distant link to home, but new families are created from shared experiences. So Wendy’s in theatre reliance on her VSO and clinical colleagues was not surprising. Like the lifelong bonds developed between Military Veterans, they become the in-theatre support group (family), so critical in high stress situations.

    Indelible also demonstrates the difficulties NGOs face in setting up a new mission. NGO intentions are good, but they still must get international financial support and win over host countries suspicious of their motives before a mission can proceed. Thus, it should come as no surprise that selected volunteers are often kept waiting for long periods of times before deployment and that initial mission goals take time to develop.

    With regards to her mission, it appeared Wendy was faced with two separate mental health issues. The first is the intractable problem of long term institutional mental health care. Sri Lanka was, and likely still is, using state institutions to warehouse and care for mentally handicapped people, with the help of family. Discontinued in many countries, including Canada, the replacement group homes, care centres, different drug and psychological programmes have still yet to demonstrate they can adequately address serious mental health issues. Without a proven working model to effectively deal with these serious issues, attempting to drive change in other countries appears to be a tough sell. However, the second issue, dealing with war trauma among both the general population and care givers, is an area where there appears to be some hope. During and following armed conflict, highly traumatized people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are still functioning as care givers and often still doing important work to support their families and communities. Programmes to develop cross disciplinary care teams, capable of recognizing and dealing with PTSD, are an important start point. Providing PTSD recognition and basic treatment options to a broad spectrum of care givers (padres, social workers, psychologists, all medical personnel and even among PTSD suffers themselves) is a great first step to building integrated teams. There is also a need to harden these care givers against the personal trauma of dealing with large groups of people suffering from PTSD. This requires robust and adaptable internal support networks. Train the Trainer programmes, coupled with group and individual grief and trauma counselling, and supported by a growing body of best practice on medications capable of helping sufferers’ control the worst effects of PTSD are critical pieces. Wendy’s experience also shows how receptive nations can be to this type of help in times of need.

    Because there will be trauma after every conflict, it seems that VSO and other NGO’s should develop a standard package to permit the delivery of an integrated PTSD programme immediately upon entry into an area of conflict. The longer this type of trauma is not addressed, the more it will affect all aspects of life in the region, perhaps for generations.
    In the end, I hope that Dr. Wendy Nordick’s book will spark discussion on how that international community can swiftly and effectively assist nations rebuild psychologically following periods of conflict and trauma. This is important, as the need continues to grow.

  • Mary Brunton

    Indelible: A Social Worker in the Wake of Civil War is a book that makes you think about the huge capacity some human beings have for courage including - the courage it takes to step into the complete unknown as a CUSO volunteer in Sri Lanka following many years of its civil war; the courage to disclose, with brutal honesty, your motivations, your doubts, your biases and your assumptions; the courage to write with such raw honesty about unflattering or embarrassing, but oh so human moments; the courage to acknowledge you need help and then to ask for it from your faith, from your colleagues and from newly forged friendships; the courage to push yourself when you’re at the end of your rope; and the courage it takes to write with such vulnerability about a profoundly personal journey. Wendy Nordick’s book is a powerful first person narrative that reassures us there is still caring, humanity, and, of course, courage in our world.

  • Barbara Lavallee

    This memoir, Indelible: A Social Worker in the Wake of Civil War, by Wendy Nordick, invites us to share in Wendy and Bill’s great adventure in exotic Sri Lanka. We first learn that Wendy and her husband Bill, after several visa delays, finally succeed in being accepted by Volunteer Services Overseas(VSO) having been recruited as skilled volunteers. With a freshly minted Ph.D. in social work, Wendy was considered an ideal candidate to help create much-needed sustainable change within the mental health care system of this beleaguered, torn country. After a period of acclimatization, research, and consultation with local mental health care professionals, Wendy developed a Western bio-psychological framework that focused on a team-based approach to teaching doctors, nurses, and health aides the strategies and skills needed to provide effective mental health care to the broader community. She offered a variety of mental health courses and even wrote a curriculum for a postgraduate diploma program in social work.

    While Wendy’s substantial contributions to the country’s mental health care system are well documented in this book it is also her descriptions of the great variety of cultural experiences she and Bill lived day to day which make this such an enjoyable read. Written in a straightforward, narrative style Wendy honestly writes of many frustrating cultural misunderstandings with humour and goodwill. Being forced to “spoon” with a gentleman on a “jammed to the rafters” local bus, shivering in an ice-cold shower, watching green mold grow “like fur” on her leather purse, and enduring the sartorial complexity of fitting herself into a traditional sari are just a few of the hilarious examples of her attempts to fit into her new environment. She consistently demonstrates validation and appreciation of the cultural differences surrounding food(which she loved), dress, social etiquette at cultural events, and religious practices that were so foreign to her. As well, her love of the people she encounters shines forth from every page and photograph.
    It was very interesting to learn of the extensive training she and Bill had to undergo. They met many caring and committed volunteers from all over the world and it was nice to be introduced to them in these pages.

    One limitation of the book which contains only black and white photos is that any long-range shots were unclear; the blurry images were hard to connect to the text description of them.
    Also, house husband and English teacher notwithstanding, I would like to have gained a deeper understanding of Bill’s contributions to this two-year project. His role as a “skilled’ volunteer comes across as rather unfulfilled.

    In conclusion, as I have personally visited Sri Lanka I would highly recommend it to folks like myself who look back fondly on the many funny and frustrating cultural misadventures we all enjoyed.

    Because there is such a wealth of information on the whole process of becoming a VSO volunteer in this book I find it to be a valuable resource for any future aspiring volunteers. Wendy’s story is an inspiration to others to bridge the gaps of culture and make a difference in our world.

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