A year ago I wrote a newsletter as I was winging home from Africa – and here I am again. So many reflections, so many experiences, sights, sounds, emotions. Where do I begin? And do I share what meant most to me or what might be most relevant to you and your work? I'd like to tell you about Amani Counseling Center in Africa.
This year I went with Michelle Wangler (whom many of you know) and Rita Maynard, a very talented therapist from Portland, Oregon, who trained with us for many years. If you don’t know Michelle, she works at The Couples Institute as both a couples therapist and an assistant in my online training program.
Our mission was to return to Giwa Farms, the IDP (internally displaced persons) refugee camp and help finish a high school being built by World Teacher Aid.
But, first things first. We stopped on the way in Nairobi and visited Amani Counselling Center. I had volunteered to conduct some couples therapy training there.
The afternoon started with extra challenges: I'd flown for 26 hours, and my luggage was stuck in Istanbul and wouldn't arrive for another 24 hours. And of course I knew there would be enormous cultural differences.
John, the Kenyan therapist who had arranged my visit, arrived at our hotel wearing a freshly ironed suit and there I was in borrowed shoes barely generating a presentable outfit. The materials I was donating to their center and planning to use in the training were also still in Turkey. So the only sane thing to do in a situation like that is to call on my best available resources and wing it.
I started teaching and was soon challenged by one of their staff who explained that African men were much tougher than what I was demonstrating in my role play or than what many American therapists encounter.
So with some trepidation I asked him to role-play a really, really tough guy. He created a stubborn hard-working unemotional man in a bi-racial, multi cultural marriage with a wife who wanted him to become more open and modern. And he was tough!
Using the Initiator-Inquirer, I was able to playfully connect with him and let him express his frustration with his wife. I let him know I heard his pain and fear, while also supporting his wife’s desires. By the end of the role play, the couple had shared raw emotion. The Amani staff seemed to be especially drawn to the idea that they could facilitate deep, heartfelt interaction by facilitating couples’ connecting directly and emotionally with each other. We worked on their strong, directive leadership skills. Orchestrating and facilitating direct interaction was new to many of them. I was very touched by their hospitality, the tour of their Center and all the services they provide on limited resources. But most of all I was touched by the connection and camaraderie we achieved in a short time. Happily we had crossed the cultural divide and shared meaningful time together. They had given to me and I to them.
I hope over time some of you will come to know some of them as we find ways for them to participate in my online training community. As we parted, they gave me a book published by their center called Help at Hand…Amani, A Pioneering Counselling and Training Model for Kenya and the Region. The back of the book contains many vignettes of clients writing in for advice and their responses.
It artfully covers topics like pornography, domestic violence, stress, worry and cults. In a country full of poverty, political corruption, physical and sexual violence, hundreds of thousands of families forcibly thrown from their homes, and educational constraints at every level, I wondered how they would address the issue of pornography.
Here’s how they responded to one man writing in seeking help. He had become addicted to pornography and was distressed about “his engine failing” when he tried to have sex with a woman. I’ll close by sharing with you some excerpts from their response to him.
Amani: “Your situation is a difficult one. It is in fact quite complicated, but it is possible to do something about it.
You are suffering from the consequences of the longtime reading and being in contact with pornography…. You have managed to get yourself regularly sexually excited through reading pornographic materials. This has trained you to respond in a particular way. You become aroused…. You seek relief through masturbation. This is a common experience for young men. When it continues for quite some time we gradually become addicted to the pleasure. Now we have to do something to change this pattern of compulsion, of obsession, and a preoccupation with our own selfish pleasure.
The sexual pleasure gives us instant gratification, we feel good for a short time,…and we often fall asleep. It can be a short-term compensation for other issues we are facing in life: peer pressure, disappointment in our own achievements, failure to have good friends, blocking out shame. The strategy has its own difficulties.
When you encounter real girls, somehow panic settles in and you get scared and find your “engine fails” and you become unaroused. To deal with this problem actually requires you to do some talking about sex to come to understand some aspects of it and to become comfortable with yourself in sexual encounters. You would need to explore the purpose of sexual encounters and understand their place in a growing relationship.
It is not a problem that cannot be solved. This is something that is in you and it can be addressed by looking at the meaning of sex and the role it normally plays in a person’s life. You do not have to suffer this humiliation forever, you can do something about it. Should you wish to make an appointment at Amani Centre, there are many counselors who could assist you in this process.”
Please share your reaction to their response. What does your reaction suggest to you?
Early the next morning we headed off to Giwa Farms. This is the IDP camp where Pete, Molly and I donated funds and labor to build a classroom a year ago. Stay tuned and I’ll write to you soon about my experience with the remarkable people there.
I encourage you, too, to share your expertise wherever you are and whatever you are doing.