Healing in Community: Project Huruma

Co-written by Lorraine Hobbs and Autumn Totton

(This is the first in a series of articles on Project Huruma, to appear periodically in coming months.)

Project Huruma has emerged with a vision to support caregivers and survivors of trauma around the world with mindfulness and self-compassion skills, starting with the Mt. Elgon community in Western Kenya. Thanks to the generous support of numerous donors and a committed team willing to volunteer their time, our first training took place there in late October/early November 2019. 

It started after Lilian Muthui, a Kenya-based psychologist and counselor attended a 5-day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) intensive in Nairobi. The experience was transformative, and following the deep immersion into self-compassion, she found herself reflecting on the potential of self-compassion training as a healing intervention for the 300+ women and children caught in the crossfire of tribal conflicts, starting with the Mt. Elgon community in Western Kenya.

We spent many weeks leading up to the launching of our phase one program, preparing as a team and anticipating the ways in which the programs would need to be adapted.

The group of women and children we were serving had suffered a series of severely traumatic attacks most recently one in 2018, which for many resulted in the loss of fathers and husbands, sexual violence and brutality.

Because of the instability in their region, these 38 women, 20 teens and 10 children traveled via boda boda (motorcycles) down the mountain and then by bus to a more secure facility over three hours away. The Project Huruma team, after traveling from all around the world, convened there to meet them — eager and anxious to see if the 5-Day trauma-informed Mindful Self-Compassion trainings we had planned would be well received. The women and children arrived in great spirits, descending from their bus with courageous smiles  and a traditional greeting that began a journey of healing for all.

Over the next 5 days, these brave women and children helped us learn what they needed in their recovery. The framework of the intensive was self-compassion, but the teaching was guided by their willingness to share their stories of pain and suffering. For many of these women, their stories had not  been told. Their grief and shame had been concealed since the original conflict in 2007.

While it took some time to build safety and trust, we eventually found our groove. Each team had two teachers trained in an MSC/MSC-T based-curriculum, as well as an interpreter, who skillfully navigated the language barrier. These women and children generously shared native Swahili songs and dances, which were integrated into the training, and together with carefully crafted art and movement activities, these women and children found a path of healing. Day after day they taught us how survivors of complex trauma could benefit from self-compassion. As they opened their hearts to us and to one another, the suffering began to ease. Several of the women reported how pain in their bodies began to shift and, in some cases, disappear altogether. 

An additional and equally distressing concern was the talk of revenge killing among the male adolescents. The Chief and her elders spoke of the need to support these young males on learning to manage the unresolved anger from the extreme violence the women endured. The history of conflict was fueled by the need to avenge their fathers and protect their mothers and sisters. By all accounts, he male adolescents seemed to thrive under the safety of self-compassion during the training. 

On the final day, our team of eleven returned to their village, and with great pride these women shared their homes, fields, crops and their efforts to restore the safety and serenity of a former village life.

They also shared with great agony the  evidence of the assaults on their homes. The journey to the village was strenuous and exhausting for many of us, but bearing witness to the stain left on this community from the traumatic events seemed somehow vital to the psychological healing of these women and children. 

back row – left to right: Natacha Boulton – Canada, Shelagh McFarland – Malaysia, Galia Tyano Ronan – Israel, Natalie Logan – Canada, Laila Narsi – U.S.
front row – left to right: Heather Helvink. – U.S., Lorraine Hobbs – U.S., Yaffa Maritz – U.S., Shani – Israel. 


Additional thank you to Laila Narsi for the image at the top of the page.

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