Photo by Tony Cece

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thursday 8/2

Today is our last day at Into Abba’s Arms (IAA) and we leave for Nairobi Airport tomorrow morning. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. All of us are ready to return to the states and reconnect with our friends and family at home. And yet, we wept as we said goodbye to new friends, mourning the loss of our family here in Kenya.
This morning, we began our final activity with the expectation of another overwhelming day. Following the large numbers at the women’s conference, some of the staff at IAA predicted that our numbers for the men’s conference would be upwards of 500 attendees. The team woke early for breakfast, and prayed during quiet times as we braced for another chaotic operation. However, we were pleasantly surprised when only 58 people showed up for the conference. After a good number of people arrived, we commenced with our presentations on Communication Skills, Conflict Resolution, and Domestic Violence.
Ideally, we would like as many as possible to hear the information we have to present. But in reality, group work is only feasible with a small ratio of attendees to counselors. With a max of 15 people per group, two co-leaders and one supervisor, we accomplished much through meeting small groups. Everyone in the group had the opportunity to share. And the sharing was highly beneficial, as the men in attendance sought better communication with their families and a reduction in domestic violence within their communities.
My group in particular was very active and I learned a lot by listening to the men’s experiences. We had young men and older men in our group, the older sharing wisdom with the younger. We also happened to have two pastors, who served as our interpreters, sharing biblical wisdom for the conflicts presented. 
It was hard for me to understand our cultural differences. The men in our group were part of a new wave of thinking that desires an end to domestic violence and equality within the marriage relationship. However, this ideology is difficult to promote in a culture that promotes battery as apart of the complete submission of a woman to her husband. One of the men remarked, “When a man beats his wife, it shows that he is dominant in his home. He does not want to be seen as weak. He wants respect.” We agreed that respect has to be earned, and if a man loves his wife well, then she will give him the respect he desires. The men were glad to be part of the few actively “planting seeds” in Kikuyu culture, encouraging men to build homes on a healthy relational foundation.
At the end of the day, the trauma team, members of the IAA staff, and the pastors who served as our Kikuyu interpreters came together for a final debriefing session, sharing thoughts and feelings about the past two weeks. The meeting was highly emotional as people shared how much they enjoyed working together. Our work was good for the community and life-changing for members of the trauma team. We were all very humbled that this community accepted us as family and allowed us to serve them with our expertise. We will leave the community deeply assured of the Lord’s presence in our work. Tomorrow we head to Nairobi on our way to Istanbul to rest and play a bit after all the intense work in Kenya.

Wednesday 8/1

I am exhausted with a myriad of emotions as I attempt to describe the immensity of the Trauma Teams' day. There were varying opinions on how many women would show up to the women's' conference today. Guesses ranged from 45 to 123. Nothing but the Lord could have prepared us for the 380 women from the communities and towns surrounding IAA (Into Abba's Arms) who showed up to hear the Trauma Team speak on Communication Skills, Conflict Resolution, Relaxation Techniques, Domestic Violence and Physical and Sexual Abuse. As 150 led to 200 and 200 to 300 it was standing room only and it was clear that they were eager to hear and learn.
So many women necessitated a lot of fluidity on behalf of the Trauma Team and the Lord blessed us with a lovely warm day in which we held group sessions out side. Groups lasted about two hours and consisted of approximately 50-55 women in each group along with some VERY good interpreters. Originally the intention of most group leaders was to process the Communication Skills and Conflict Resolution presentations however, the reality of their lives was made very clear when one woman stated very clearly that she would never use some of the communication skills presented out of fear of being beaten to death. Many groups offered stories of abuse, and in one group when asked by show of hands how many women had been beaten by their husbands; all raised their hands. When asked how many had been beaten to the point of hospitalization; all raised their hands. A middle aged women interjected and explained, "My husband, he beats me, then he tells to me I am a bad wife and mother and beats me more, then he leaves and when he returns, he is nice to me and he tells to me- wife- go get for you food, then when I return he beats me again. Days and days and day I feel smaller and smaller and smaller til I just do not wish to live or I pray to the Lord to take me home or I wish to commit suicide." Out of the most somber heart, the group was asked by show of hands how many of them had felt today or even this week as if they wanted to end their lives. ALL raised their hands! 
The poignancy of the moment was clear. The following hour in most groups was spent discussing ways to try and stay safe, though Kenya does not have Domestic Violence shelters. These women are so isolated and alone. Discussion groups focussed on supporting one another as women and finding safety within each other. Learning to talk openly and honestly with other women and using each other as a support system especially in times of extreme violence. 
After the final presentations on Domestic Violence were given, we were encouraged by their strength as they shared stories of their abuse and they were encouraged to have some strategies to use to help keep them stay as safe as possible from the ravages of domestic violence.  
In ending one women stated to a team member, "You see me. Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone."

Tuesday 7/31

Today was the second day of our conference for pastors, held in the chapel at Into Abbas Arms (IAA). Our team gave presentations on pertinent issues, some of which are highly sensitive subjects in the Kikuyu tribal culture. After each presentation, the team facilitated process groups in which the pastors could discuss what they learned, along with positive and negative feelings attached to the material presented.
The first presentation was entitled Treating Traumatized Families. The pastors learned how to identify the causes of trauma within the family system and its associated signs. Once the symptoms of trauma are identified, the affected individual can receive treatment to regain normal levels of functioning. Though we did not intend for pastors to become clinical mental health counselors, we wanted to equip them with tools to assist in caring for their congregations. The knowledge gained will help the pastors assess the amount of help they can give and guide them to resources when more expertise is required.
The next presentation was on the topic of Domestic Violence. We discussed how the relationship between a husband and wife can transform into that of a batterer and a victim. Domestic violence affects the the entire family system, children usually finding a place in between mom and dad. This lead to a discussion about the negative developmental effects of family trauma on children, most of which persists into adulthood.
I noticed that many of the pastors sat with an uncomfortable posture as I scanned the room. There were several snickers and short interjections as the presenters jarred their status quo. During group discussions, some of our team members noted that the harshest opinions on the subject centered around the topic of divorce. Some pastors had little grace for a women that left their husbands, even if subjected to violence. A woman leaving her husband is a sin and grounds for removal from the church. 
Though this view was not expressed by all of the pastors, it illustrates the divergence of modern relational equality from traditional Kikuyu culture. There are relatively new laws in the nation of Kenya that promote equality in a marriage relationship (modeled on the American Duluth Model). However, the culture needs time to adapt. The law cannot be enforced useless unless people are willing to report abuse. Though most of our team was greatly disturbed by the pastors’ remarks, we must remember that American culture was in the same position only 45 years ago.
Though their hesitance to receiving the information was noticeable, the pastors were thankful for the opportunity to learn. The breakout groups were used well, as we discussed ways to approach this material from the pulpit and integrate changes into church culture. Additionally, the groups allowed the pastors to practice newly learned counseling skills such as the Modified Sand Tray Technique, in which small stones are used to represent people, gathering a remarkable amount of information on the client’s family life and support system. After hearing the presentation on domestic violence, one pastor said, “I’ve never thought about it this way; God is trying to get our attention.”

Monday 7/30

A new adventure ensued today as we began our two day conference, presented to approximately 105 pastors from communities surrounding Into Abba’s Arms (IAA). Beginning right on time...Kenya time, introductions went long as asking 105 pastors to introduce themselves quickly simply isn't possible!
Presentations included topics such as Attending Behaviors, Conflict Resolution, Addictions, Compassion Fatigue and Relaxation Techniques. The pastors were eager to learn and expressed strong intentions to bring this "much needed" information back to their communities in an effort to not only help their communities and congregations spiritually but mentally and physically also.
Beginning with Attending Behaviors, our presenters described and modeled listening skills, reflecting skills, paraphrasing, mirroring, posturing, and non-attention strategies that allow clients to feel more at ease whereby creating an environment where the client is likely to establish trust and open up. These attending behaviors were further demonstrated through a very comical skit performed by two of our team members. There was much laughter, and the skit set the tone for the rest of the day as the pastors began to relax and participate within the discussions.
Kenya tea time gave way to the opportunity to mingle and further get to know some of the local pastors and some of the struggles they face on a more personal level. What we found was more of the same; rampant struggles with physical and sexual abuse, child abuse, drug and alcohol problems and how these problems are kept silent within the community and church.
Following, team members presented on Conflict Resolution in which they addressed preconceived ideas about conflict such as, "If you ignore/deny conflict, it will go away on its own," ways to identify, manage and avoid negative conflict. The pastors were roused with excitement as they identified with ways in which this information could help not only their clients and congregations; but as one pastor said, "oh how I wish I would have known this last and my wife...BIG bang!" We all laughed; but the moment was somber as he continued to tell us of his own marital struggles and how trapped he felt at the inability to talk confidentially with another. As the afternoon progressed, discussions on addiction and led to some hard-hitting and intimate group sessions with our pastors in which team members helped process stories of mean drunkenness leading to "beatings of the women," severely abusive marriages and an increasing drug and alcohol problem now spreading like "epidemic" to the young boys. Issues that arose from their pastoral perspective revolved mostly around ways to "fix it all" and fatigue. These two issues were the focus of our last two sessions and extremely well  received.  
Pastors were relieved to know that the stress, anxiety and even anger they sometimes felt, had a name; Compassion Fatigue. By a show of hands nearly all of the pastors felt symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and were eager to know and practice some stress relieving strategies to help avoid further fatigue. All in all it was a long and successful day, yet as a team, our thoughts were now focussed on the topics to come tomorrow and our hearts had been blessed by their eagerness to learn and willingness to allow us to hear their stories and share in their struggles.