May/Jun
2018

Counselor Wanted! Location: Africa

Written by Allison Loftus
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DEEP DOWN INSIDE ME IS A PASSION TO PLANT IN EVERY WOMAN’S HEART THE FUNDAMENTAL LIFE VALUE THAT SHE IS LOVABLE, WORTHY AND SIGNIFICANT. AS A CHILD I KNEW MY LOVE FOR PEOPLE TRANSCENDED THE BOUNDARIES OF MY BACKYARD. WHEN I WAS 5 YEARS OLD, I REMEMBER TELLING MY MOM THAT GOD HAD CALLED ME TO HELP PEOPLE. I DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANT UNTIL FATHER’S DAY 2007 WHEN I MISCARRIED BABY LOFTUS AT 13 WEEKS GESTATION. ON THAT DAY, A PATH WAS LAID OUT FOR ME THAT WOULD LEAD ME TO GRADUATING WITH A MASTER’S DEGREE IN COUNSELING AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES.

MY HEART KNEW

When the opportunity presented itself earlier this year for me to spend 15 days in Uganda providing mental health care for women of Kyampisi, my heart said, “Go.” My mind said many other things, but my heart did not hesitate. It knew I needed to go to Africa.

 

Even though I have never traveled overseas and have never been away from my children or husband for more than a few days at a time, I packed my bags and boarded a plane for Uganda.

When the plane landed, my world opened to red dirt and seas of people, cast against a hue of deep greens: Uganda. I had arrived. I was not afraid. I stepped off the plane with my pockets full of hope and curiosity. The unexpected awaited me, and I was ready to learn. And learn I did.

“AM I ENOUGH?”  

As my group sessions with the women of Kyampisi progressed, I began to understand how much we share as women and was touched by how connected we are as human beings. Thousands of miles apart, living in different continents and yet, I learned, we are more alike than we are different.

Our conversations about self-esteem, body image and self-care made it clear that our struggles as women are universal. As each woman wrestled with the questions of “Am I good mom?”, “Am I lovable?”, “Am I pretty?”, “Am I enough?”, I was filled with the comfort of companionship and my heart began to overflow with compassion. As tears silently fell into the dust, I saw we were made of the same Earth, and in our hearts we carry the same burdens as women and as mothers.

We all struggle at times with these same thoughts and feelings. Mental health difficulties do not discriminate. At some point each person on this Earth will be affected by a mental health complication, either themselves or through someone close to them. 

COMPASSION FOR THE STRUGGLE 

Thoughts of inadequacy tip a mind toward the pits of despair and construct walls of isolation around our spirits. Hearts do not grow and flourish in isolation. Kindness, patience, peace and joy are all qualities cultivated in community. The women of Kyampisi show how to love well amid heartache and reinforce the value of loving yourself well.

As a kid, I was taught to leave a room a little bit better than how I found it. As I grew older, these rooms shifted from those with four walls into the rooms containing the human spirit, each one connected to each other through community. With this perspective in my heart, it is my dearest hope that when I left Kyampisi, I left it a little bit better. May we all carry compassion in our hearts as we are all connected through our common struggles. 

Allison Loftus is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Flourish Counseling. 

Editor’s Note: Alison Loftus shared (at Your Fears Workshop sponsored by RochesterWomen Magazine at Forager Brewery/Fiddlehead Coffee in February 2018) her desire to become a writer and motivational speaker. I am immediately inspired by her writing. If you are inspired, too, please cheer her on when you see her or comment on Facebook.

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