We-ness

June 2013 

There is a phrase in Swahili that has baffled me because it is so distinctly not Western or American.

Ubuntu (Oo-buhn-too)
This African philosophy explains that we are dependent on our community and vice versus. “I am because we are.” I am integral and valuable to the whole, both affecting it and being affected by it. It is an appreciation of both uniqueness and otherness.

I often feel that in our individualistic culture, we lack the sense of community that both fails and succeeds together. Now, yes, there are downsides to a “group think” mentality, but that is not what I am referring to. I am referencing the need for all of us to connect and belong. Where we are from and who we relate to matters because it is our context that helps us make sense of the world. This is especially true of our clients in Kenya, not only because they are a part of the African culture, but because like all of us, they are searching for connection.

That is why stigma is so debilitating. The stigma that comes from having the HIV/AIDS disease destroys the connection our clients have by using fear to prevent interaction and ultimately love and compassion. One of the greatest roles our counselors play is in restoring a belief in the ability to connect to their families and communities. They also provides a safe support group of others that are walking the same road. There is a powerful healing property of group cohesiveness. Ubuntu, this we-ness, brings hope and an essence of solidarity. The group counseling model has been proved to be as successful as individual counseling, and produces long term community benefits according to Irvin Slalom, a noted psychotherapist in this field, that are transferable to other relationships in clients’ lives.

CARE for AIDS has seen that these groups are effective in providing lost community and support during a time of life that much encouragement is needed. Our 80 person classes meet at least monthly if not more in various manners that allow clients to build relationship and go through the program with others, rather than alone.

This is the reason that graduations are so celebratory- it is not just one graduating. We are all graduating. 

How have you seen or not seen this in your own community?