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The power of groups: Listening Circles in Kenya

Today's post is from the SIA Partner Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Communities (e-CATS) in Kibera, Kenya. The e-CATS team shares about their work providing vulnerable families in informal settlements with emotional support and business guidance.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”, This quote by Winston Churchill opens the time of reflections during the Listening Circles Workshop.

When the Covid 19 pandemic brought the entire world to a halt, shutting down the world's largest economies and forcing people into hiding, it was clear that much had happened in the blink of an eye. There was little left after the loss, grief, and mourning of loved ones, as well as the loss of jobs and livelihoods, and many people began to live desperately and hopelessly. In an already unequal world, the most vulnerable poor, who had been living in abject poverty, were the most affected.

Consequently, there were no better words to describe the significant increase in Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, particularly in informal settlements. As a result, Empowering Communities as Actors for Transforming Communities (e-CATS) planned for a chance for people to come together and experience the power of listening and ‘listening from the heart.'

e-CATS saw a ripe opportunity for the community to talk about their realities and how they deal with them, a platform for them to experience empathy during these difficult times. This is where the listening circles originated.

The workshop not only provided a safe space for them to express their emotions, but it also helped them build their self-image, which improved their relationship and productivity. As the saying goes, "Charity Begins at Home." e-CATS began with current and past Small Business Funds (SBF) holders and progressed to some prospects who found the SBF approach to be suitable for them.

The Art of Effective Listening

The Listening Circles thus examines the art of effective listening, in which one listens from the heart rather than the mind in order to have a deep emotional connection and reflect on it. The second benefit of Listening Circles is the ability to empathize, which allows people to begin feeling the connection of social beings and a sense of belonging. This ability to empathize sets it apart from other training sessions.

During this time, the importance of creating a safe space for the participants is emphasized because people come as they are, some with severe vulnerability and simply needing someone to feel safe with. To that end, the sessions were led by qualified facilitators who were well-versed in Affirmation, Communication, Cooperation, and Trust and are part of the community.

A selfie by Romano Iluku, e-CATS co-founder, with workshop participants.

Participants came with their own set of expectations. The high expectations that e-CATS would meet their financial needs and restore their collapsed businesses were a major challenge in all of the workshops. Even though e-CATS lacked the financial muscle to meet these expectations, most of the participants went home with a lot of hope for tomorrow.

“There is something really powerful about groups and shared experiences. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they are by themselves, but a group will convince them to suspend disbelief. A community creates belief.” (Duhigg, 2014, P. 85). This statement was witnessed by the positive comments they gave at the end of the workshop. (Read more about the work of e-CATS.)

Thank you for supporting Spirit in Action and our partners, like e-CATS, who are supporting the whole individual - mind, body, and soul.


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