Igniting Self-Compassion in Africa
Vulnerable populations in developing countries have little or no access to mindfulness and self-compassion practices, which limits their ability to support their mental health and wellbeing in dire circumstances. So it is with great joy and gratitude that I share with you that among 30 applications for a Compassion Corp Grant, mine selected along with a few others in late 2021. The award of $1,500 US will be applied to teaching a full 8-week MSC class with a minimum of 15 participants to a group that would not otherwise be able to afford the course.
To understand the significance of this grant, as well as the opportunities that may also be available to MSC Teachers, I’d like to first share some background on the Compassion Corps Grant and then share an overview of the MSC project I will be implementing in 2022 in Africa.
Compassion in Action Through Compassion Corps
Compassion Corps (CC) is an initiative to bring evidence-based compassion trainings to communities of need at no cost to participants and provide a platform where compassion trainers can unite for the greater good through compassion in action, committed to relieving the systemic suffering of vulnerable populations.
Any certified compassion teacher can apply for a modest grant (generally ranging from $1,000-$2,000) to pay for their teaching time and expertise to support the community in which they’re working. Certified teachers offer the full 8-week program of either Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT), or Compassion-Based Cognitive Training (CBCT) to approximately 20 people.
In addition to a license to teach, CC grantees must demonstrate a degree of cultural sensitivity towards, and understanding of, the communities they wish to serve. The stories of each grant are meant to inspire prosociality and compassion among not only the participants, but also the trainers.
The vision is that each program has the potential to not only influence those who are directly affected, but an ever-expanding network of compassion and generosity. CC was initiated in 2016 by Margaret Cullen (Compassion Corps), certified MBSR teacher and founder of MBEB.
My idea for the grant was designed based on the existing pre-pandemic CMSC connections to our partner Global Engagement Institute for our Kenya and Vietnam “Globally Engaged MSC Intensives” (and hopefully a future one in India) and a more recent local partner Mental Health Hub (mHub) in South Africa. My intention for the grant was to 1) strengthen these relationships and 2) share the grant with another MSC Teacher in one of these countries..
I am honored to teach together with Dr. Susan Gitau, who is a Lecturer & Chair of the Counseling Department at Africa Nazarene University, Kenya, as well as an Accredited Senior Counselor Supervisor and Counseling Psychologist Consultant, Trauma Counseling Expert, Certified Mediator, MSC Teacher, and currently a participant in CMSC’s Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy (SCIP) Professional Training Program.
The target groups for our course throughout the first trimester of 2022 will include counselors in the Kenya Counseling & Psychological Association (KCPA) Kiambu County and the Ministry of Education, the Kenyan National Police Service, and Faith Based Institutions working with vulnerable communities and counselors drawn from Kenya Defense Forces and Kenya Prisons Department. The counselors who have supported vulnerable individuals and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic in different sectors will be given priority for the scholarship. Most helpers suffer from burnout and performance anxiety in therapy. This has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to many helpers withdrawing from practice and frustrating clients in return. Therefore, self-compassion is very relevant in helping them cope with the subsequent helplessness and possible client harm that comes from it.”
MSC Co-Teaching and Building a Local MSC Community
In addition to the counselor participants, four seats will be reserved for the Susan Gitau Counseling Foundation Volunteers who contributed to the translation of the MSC Teacher’s Guide (TG) into the Swahili language but had never done an MSC course. A few spots will also be reserved for mHub staff (mental health professionals) in Kigali, Rwanda, who are working with different sections of the Rwandan community in local mental health centers that work directly with different low-income communities. Most of the mental health professionals in Rwanda don’t have access to services through which they can learn new skills to develop their professional capacity to serve the most vulnerable populations in their country so these scholarships are very meaningful to the long term health of their communities.
Walk Mindfully, Listen Deeply, Grow Globally
From experience many of us are aware that it doesn’t work to “parachute” into a community to teach compassion. Before learning to teach MBSR, MSC and other mindfulness-based formats, my professional work had focused for 15 years as a consultant working globally in international development cooperation, most often in Central and South America and Africa. I am grateful for having been able to see so much of this world and immerse myself into an array of diverse communities and cultures, and I have been blessed with receiving amazing hospitality even in dire conditions. My vision is to combine these previous professional experiences in development cooperation projects with teaching compassion-based formats to vulnerable populations that have no or little access to these practices as a form of capacity building leading to ownership within the local communities. Ideally, this project will provide a mutual learning path in all directions, with participants eager to learn from one another and nourish our felt experience of common humanity. Co-teaching with Susan will allow us to build synergies that may fertilize additional MSC teaching opportunities in Africa and involve more local MSC teachers.
More about this exciting experience will be shared with you as we implement the project. We hope it will encourage, inspire and ignite you. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions at [email protected]
Mirjam Luthe, M.A. is the International Affairs Manager for the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, a certified MSC Teacher, a certified MBSR teacher, trained in the Mindful Schools Curriculum, Council Practice, and contemplative dialog. She has worked in many developing countries and stands for a socially engaged practice.