Communication is Key

In March we were pleased to run our third annual Interpersonal Skills and Leadership workshop in Nonviolent Communication with the 4th year students of the Hamlin College of Midwives, as part of our holistic approach to empowering young women. The purpose of the workshops are to share important communication skills and tools that will enable future midwives to support pregnant women and mothers in their care when working in the rural areas, where they will be deployed after graduation. Christina Blecher leads the courses and tells us about the latest workshop, describing some key learning highlights:

“For the third year in a row I had the privilege to lead this workshop and was very happy to have two of GreenLamp’s sponsored midwives in this class of 2018; Birke Bayu and Medina Babu.

Everything about the workshop was new and different to the students compared with their usual learning environment and they took some time to get used to it: sitting in the classroom in a circle without tables, interactive learning, role plays in groups, working in a classroom as well as individual self-reflection.

We started with an “Icebreaker” exercise and everyone wrote down three things they would bring with them if they were stranded on a desert island. This generated quite some gaiety which was one of the goals of the exercise – to help everyone relax. We also used the three things they had chosen to discuss feelings and needs, and the differentiation between strategies and needs – key ingredients for enabling empathic communication.

I was thrilled to see how engaged the young women were in the exercises and role plays, daring to show their vulnerability in front of each other and achieving important personal learning. I noticed that the students found it challenging to make clear observations without judging. This is essential in order to find the feeling and need associated with a situation so that a clear request can be made to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. Focusing on their profession, we had a great discussion about the need for care – from the pregnant woman’s perspective as well as from the midwife’s perspective. Another key ingredient of the workshop is empathic connection, and we spent time differentiating empathy from other ways we can express ourselves often confused with empathy, such as sympathy, giving advice, etc.

At the end of the second day I had doubts as to whether I had managed to convey all these skills in such a short time to these wonderful young women. Was it too much for them to grasp and had I been clear enough, considering that English is not their mother tongue and that all the words for feelings and needs were probably quite new to them?

The students had prepared a personal example that they worked on in role plays together on the last day, to find ways to reach the other person empathically. This involved making a request and being able to hear a no, then to continue from this no into an empathic communication. We spent the whole morning preparing the exercise, and in pairs they practiced and practiced. I listened to each pair and asked questions, with the growing certainty that they could find the answers within themselves.

The result was extremely exciting, not only for me but for the students as well. Each and every situation shared with the group by the lovely and engaged young women was amazing! I felt very happy that in such a short time they had been able to understand and use these important communication skills that will help them so much in the health centres. I am also very pleased that GreenLamp is able to contribute in this way to female empowerment in rural Ethiopia!”