Two Costa Rican women breaking ground for empathy at the UN

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Christine Raine is an active member of the ECHO Community. On our 2015 edition, she gave a transformative workshop on Non-Violent Communication and also played with her band, Passiflora.

To attend ECHO 2016 and share for 72 hours with Christine and 100 other change agents, apply here.

We had been roaming around a labyrinth of small roads for half an hour when Cinthya, my colleague, finally pointed to a red building and said: this must be it. It was a plain rectangular cement structure next to a small police station. There was a colorful array of trash on the adjacent soccer field and run-down playground, and we made sure to not leave anything in the car and lock all the doors before we walked in. We felt uneasy to be in this rough part of Desamparados (better known as Desampa by locals), one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Jose, but were met with the warmest smiles we had seen all day. A few weeks prior, we had been summoned to a meeting by some unusually sensible and young government officials to discuss the situation in Calle Fallas of Desamparados. For months they experienced an unprecedented wave of gang violence, which while a significant problem in neighboring countries for decades, was a very recent issue in Costa Rica. The week before someone had been lit up in flames and had died on a transited sidewalk in broad daylight.

Officials were worried that if the community members, who in a matter of months had gone from fairly peaceful neighborhood to a chaotic one, did not have a safe space to process their pain, confusion and anger; they could become resentful and even violent in response. That conversation was the beginning of an intervention initially called “Mourning Circles”, and incidentally one of the most significant projects I have ever been involved in. By the end of the process, the participants themselves had renamed these to “Circles of Strength and Restoration”. At the time we couldn’t have felt happier about the powerful implications that this gift we had the privilege of sharing, was having on others.

Circle of Peace Restoration, Desamparados.
Circle of Peace Restoration, Desamparados.
Christine Raine

Fast forward a year later and Cynthia and I had become the first Latin American women to facilitate workshops at a United Nations agency in Rome. We were also the youngest. The Training Director expressed interest in courses that deviated from the usual technical topics and offered something more oriented towards emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationships.

The pressure was huge. Not only because of the topic, but because they were flying us in from Costa Rica to do it. When we finished our first two-day workshop with immense success, the sensation of both reliefand celebration was overwhelming. We had come a long way since Desampa, and while we knew our services were valuable, showcasing them at the UN was a whole other level. So, how did we get here?

At the United Nations in Rome
At the United Nations in Rome
Sebastián Castro

When things truly started picking up speed for us about a year ago (and despite having endless questions marks, doubts and “figuring stuff out” along the way), I remember a distinctive sensation of things feeling right. I had set a very clear intention of conversABLE becoming a community, and with experiences like Echo and our monthly practice groups, this dream felt more and more like a reality.

The sense of synchronicity spilled over to other areas of my life as well. Like encountering that life partner I knew deep down was out there, even when people around me worried that I might be getting “too picky”. I had felt isolated and alone at the beginning, but when I sought out support, it showed up in all shapes and forms. I have no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for all the believers that contributed in one way or another to the cause.

Recognizing this interdependence feels humbling and empowering at the same time… as if something bigger than ourselves begins to unravel when we align ourselves with purpose. The journey has been by no means easy, but it feels truthful.

The reactions to both our workshops at the United Nations last week, and the intervention in Desampa were overwhelming positive. Aside from the wide variety of motivations people had for attending, the emotional journey we embarked on rang a bell for everyone, regardless of their initial reason for joining the experiment. Participants felt connected… to themselves, to each other, to us as facilitators… and the sensation was palpable.

It is becoming remarkably clear that regardless of the context, people want to regain their sense of common humanity, they want to cross that bridge with others and quite literally, gain a new perspective. What an honor to be doing this kind of work, and to be recognized for it. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings and although I’m certain it will have its challenges, I feel excited to be able to contribute from this space of deep meaning and purpose.


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