Rev Dr Valerie Allen is the previous convenor of ‘Integrity’, the Church of Scotland committee who focus on Gender Justice. She recently visited our partners in Pakistan to help facilitate workshops.
Saima, a young woman in her early 20’s, stood in front of the packed room. In a clear voice she told us “Before this weekend, I wouldn’t have had the courage to speak in front of anyone. But after the affirmation I’ve received in the activities we did this weekend, I now have the confidence to stand here and speak to you.” It was a deeply touching moment witnessing this young woman blossoming.
Saima was one of 35 women from a variety of denominations who participated in a three-day women’s leadership workshop entitled “Nurturing Resilience in and Empowering Women”. The workshop was sponsored by Talitha Kumi and facilitated by Kay Keith and I (current and past Covenors of Integrity).
Using the story of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), the women reflected on inner qualities that build resilience. In small “Clan” discussion groups they shared stories and strategised about things they’d like to change in their communities or churches. They were encouraged to use their voices and skills, building confidence and leading to a greater sense of empowerment. They tried a variety of creative approaches – stitching, art, drama, movement and wellness practices. This was a revelation! The women arrived expecting to sit around a conference table and listen to “expert” leaders, pens poised to take notes. Instead they discovered circles of chairs and the expectation that they were the experts in their own lives and communities. Anyone passing the room where we met would have heard animated conversation and hoots of laughter! The depth of relationships formed were lovely; the connections made are ones, we hope, will continue.
This workshop was part of a two-week visit helping to strengthen relationships with our partners in Pakistan. It followed on from Integrity’s visit in 2017. We spent two days leading six wellbeing workshops at The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). These workshops taught simple body, mind, and spirit practices which promote wholeness, healing and peace. The practices are particularly helpful to those who have experienced violence and abuse or those living with post-traumatic stress disorder, as many of CLAAS’ clients are. Those attending had never worked with their bodies in this way. “I came here with a thumping headache and feeling stressed, but now my headache is gone, and I am totally relaxed,” one man told the group. A woman shared, “This class has been wonderful. I came feeling confused. I now have a sharper focus. I feel calm and peaceful.”
We also travelled to Sialkot where we were hosted by retired Mission Partner Catherine Nicol and Bishop Alwin Samuel. We spent time with two women’s groups, again exploring the story of the Canaanite woman and the qualities of strong women. The hospitality we received was wonderful – hospitality, lots of laughter and smiles, especially trying to teach 80+ year old Catherine about selfies!
This trip was made possible by grants from Faithshare, the St. Colm’s Fund and The Pollock Trust, the latter two of which fully funded the women’s leadership retreat. We are extremely grateful to all three.
- Rev Dr Valerie Allen