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Reports from Melphy

(Melphy Sakupwanya, Regional Reference Person for the Continent of Africa)


Ethiopia is in northeast Africa. Most of the people there are of Arab origin. The country has a population of sixty million and is home to eighty nations. This rich diversity of culture is a source of strength.

On my arrival at the airport I was overwhelmed by a huge cheering crowd, and I said to myself, "Gee, I didn't know RC was this popular!" But alas, I discovered to my disappointment that the greeting was for their heroic soccer team. Mesfin Taye, the RC contact, made his way out of the cheering crowd to greet me. I must have looked so bewildered that he quickly figured out who I was.

Through Mesfin, I learned that Ethiopians are a very religious people. All the workshop participants, he said, were from the church: priests, leaders, counselors, etc. The workshop started and ended with Bible reading, church songs, and prayer. Fortunately the participants understood and could communicate in English, but very slowly, so I had to slow down when teaching. There were eighteen people-fourteen men and four women. After introductions I had them do a two-minute-each-way mini-session so they could practise listening without interruption. There was some discharge (laughter) and a lot of interruption. Afterwards, they said they found it difficult not to interrupt as it was what they were used to. We had a lengthy discussion on how one can avoid interrupting a client when restimulated and then did another two minutes each way. This time it was better. Almost everyone was excited that they listened and didn't once interrupt their clients.

I talked about internalized oppression and did a demonstration with Mesfin. He ended up surprised that what had happened to him a long time ago still distressed him. All of a sudden there was a lot of animated talk in their language, and I had to ask Mesfin to interpret. He said the excitement had been caused by the realization that distresses are set in early in our lives and later make us what we are. This time I asked them to do five-minute-each-way sessions. It worked!

Throughout the workshop there were a lot of questions about correcting someone who is wrong or reacting to insults or humiliating experiences. I reminded them that people who go out of their way to hurt others are themselves distressed and need good sessions to discharge their patterns. One man insisted it was necessary to make people fear him so that they would listen to what he said. A lot of discussion ensued. Most interesting was the repeated statement from the class that he would be oppressing people by instilling fear and that this could reduce the people around him to submissive human beings.

Of great importance to them was the art of listening, of paying attention to the client and not giving advice. They would not engage in physical contact (like holding hands) during sessions as this was against their culture. They do, however, hug three to four times when greeting each other.

My highlight was seeing the Speaker of the House of Assembly, a woman I met in Beijing. She was happy I had sought her out. I spoke to her about the workshop, but she had reservations about joining the group as she felt she needed a group of people "at her level." She said she would be happy to have the literature, practise with a few people, and, if there was enough interest, invite me to lead a workshop for them. She definitely appreciated RC and said it would be the best thing for her as a wife, mother, and politician. I advised her to start with people she already felt safe with and eventually widen the circle.


Uganda is one of the three countries bordering Lake Victoria, where the great River Nile begins. It is a beautiful, hilly country with so much rain that they could have two crops a year. It used to be called the "jewel of Africa" but has since been ravaged by war and political instability. There is a lot of structural development going on, but people are very poor, very oppressed, and there is general apathy. The country has been hard hit by the AIDS pandemic. One person said she had to look after her own children as a single parent as well as the children of ten brothers who had all died of AIDS in one year. Most of the young families have at least seven children. It is as if they are trying to make up for the ones who are dying. Malaria is the biggest killer.

The workshop was made up of twenty-one women and one man, and the response was tremendous. During introductions people answered the question, "What do you hope to gain from the workshop?" Here are some of their comments:

  • As a nurse I need the skill for patients, orphans, and people who have to look after the terminally ill, as there are so many that the hospitals cannot cope and they send them away.
  • As a teacher the skill would be relevant in improving my communication with young people and in dealing with the rigidity of the rules in schools.
  • As a woman I would be empowered to take charge of my own life and greatly influence the environment around me.
  • As a former banker and now a business woman and a widow, I need to be able to face the difficult times I go through on a daily basis.
  • As a single parent I am almost a nervous wreck. I need the strength for my large family.
  • As a freelance journalist Ineed a clear mind to keep me motivated.
  • As an overbooked doctor I need to keep a good face, keep my patience, and be encouraging to my patients.
  • As a parliamentarian I need a clear mind all the time.
  • The group was more than ready for RC. After going over the theory and how to Co-Counsel, they did a mini-session on what they liked/loved about themselves and other women.
  • At the end of the session there were questions and comments like:
  • "Why should the counselor not relate her own experience that is similar to that of the client and follow this with some advice, instead of just listening?"
  • "Just listening without interruption is impossible."
  • "Why encourage a person to cry more when it is a painful experience and when in any case it will end up with the counselor also in tears?"

I reminded the group that the counselor can relate a similar experience when it is his or her turn to be listened to. I also gave the example of a typical African funeral, which a number of them had mentioned. It was apparent at the end that crying was one good healing discharge!

Eight support groups were formed: women, parents, young people, professionals, women in business, retired professionals, single parents, and religious women.

People from the rural areas spoke of traumatised young people who were abducted and used by the dissidents up north. The girls were sexually abused and the boys were trained as soldiers at the age of nine. RC, they said, would help such people heal and recover their dignity.

A substantial amount of time was spent discussing the way forward for RC in Uganda. Sarah Kibuka was chosen as leader, and she and the support group leaders will map out ways of building the Community. Sarah is the president of East, Central, and Southern African College of Nurses, and her alternate is one of the parliamentarians.

Melphy Sakupwanya

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00