Transcribe your podcast

Hey there. A quick warning before we jump in, I want to let you know that in this episode we will discuss sexual assault and we advise our listeners to practice discretion in tuning in. Welcome to the Get Together.


It's our show about ordinary people building extraordinary communities. I'm your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at People and Company and a co-author of Get Together How to Build a Community With Your People and I'm with Me or Go to a Get Together correspondent.


In each episode of this podcast, we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds, maybe thousands of more members?


Whitney, who did you choose to interview today?


Today we're talking to Onyango Otieno, founder of Nyumbani, an online service business men who have been sexually violated and abused.


And tell me, Whitney, what what stood out to you? What did you learn from our conversation today with Onyango? Usually, communities have guidelines and structures set in place for new members interested in joining, what I find interesting is a Yungas approach of letting in the first members of the structure and process and having them decide how they like to run the community. I think it's important to hear and listen to your members, especially if you're looking to run a sensitive community such as Ngubeni creates a very collective foundation for the community from the beginning.


The other thing was the importance of checking and taking care of yourself as a community leader. This ensures that you're not projecting anything that's unwanted back to the community. Only by doing so can you better serve our communities. Lastly, the importance of building with the people on the porch to their own stories. They leave their path to their own healing of importance before that, providing them with room for imagination and their tools and platform to heal on their own terms.


A powerful reminder why we need to continue creating meaningful stories. I love to hear Onyango story witness, so thank you for bringing him to the podcast. And I think while he speaks a lot about the experience of being a man in Africa, it felt so universal. But he's working on. So I'm excited to share the story with the listeners. You ready to jump in? All right, let's go.


Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the podcast. And Angola. So excited to have you on here. So you're the founder and the co-lead of Mumbai, India, Online. Safe space for men who have been sexually abused. Could you please tell us more about Mumbai, the, you know, the online community run and why it was important for you to create it?


Well, it's interesting that actually the name the name is Swahili for home. And I came up with it while this space already existed because I didn't know what would I call this kind of space.


I mean, I'm bringing men here together. It's the first time they've been meeting and stuff. But the motivation around it was especially around like the onset of covid-19 around much April. Over there, we witnessed heightened sexual abuse cases and the minister of health in Kenya was reporting that between mid March and about June, we had 5000 rape cases and 70 percent of the victims or survivors were girls who are 18 years of age and going down and then five percent of the number who are men.


You know, we have quite a bit of mechanisms in existence that tries to cater for that issue. But there's barely anything for men, you know. So out of personal a personal ordeal that happens to me. And I was 20 years old. Our housekeeper raped me. And at the time, I didn't even know it was a violation because, I mean, my understanding of rape was somebody has to physically and violently pin you down somewhere and, you know, violate you.


But with time, I came to realize that even the manipulation, even coercion, even that so many other ways, they know that rape could happen and we do not know about them. So from the simple fact that there are so many cases that work that I came across during this time of covid that, you know, men were being sodomized and or being sexually abused, sometimes by older women around them or even sometimes their partners, I felt.


It was time to sort of just begin a conversation around African masculinity, which I was already doing with a podcast, but this not this time. I just wanted to open that space a little bit more first by sharing my stories and helping many other boys and men come out, you know, and that was just life changing for most parts.


Could you tell me a bit more about why you believe that there were no resources for men? Why didn't they exist?


Well, first, it begins with the social conditioning around who a man is supposed to be and the fact that men are generally expected to hold in a lot of pain. And so by that fact, they barely report when they get up. They barely report when you know, they're going through pain or, you know, their bodies have been violated and all that.


And I think from that alone, there are barely any existing structures that help balance issues, even in the work around social justice that I've been doing. You find that when you talk to men around abuse, they find it difficult even to talk about it with fellow men. And most times it also contributes to the high suicide rates we've been witnessing. And I think you've been on a global scale, but it's a little more intense. I got a story one time from somebody who reached out to me and he told me that he had been sodomized by his fellow friends like friends he knew.


And they also robbed him on that day. And he got so angry and mad that he hired people to go and kill them because he first of all, he didn't even know that he could report to anybody. He didn't know where to go about that. He didn't think the police would believe him. And he also feared the ridicule. So for him, getting the revenge was his way of saying these people would never do it to someone else. And, you know, and I'm like, I'm the first person he ever saw talk about male rape.


So a lot of these issues are very social, cultural and from that simple fact and the fact that also the way our governments are set up is that people who are policy makers, they're it's very patriarchal. And from that simple truth, they're these guys know very little about sexual and reproductive health and rights. They know very little about, you know, male abuse, because for most parts, the word rape, when we talk about it, we only think of it as going one way that it's a man doing it to a woman.


And how come you overcame all the social pressures? Curious. How did you have the courage to do that? Well, I had been I'm a storyteller. I had been writing my stories of my life ever since I was I think this is 21, 22. And I got on social media and social media was just becoming a bit more popular in Kenya. And I was in campus then. And by that time, I couldn't go on with school because my parents couldn't afford my fees.


So I used to go to school just to sit on the computer lab and I taught myself how to blog. I taught my I joined Twitter and Facebook and all the social media pages. And so I started writing my experiences because I had so much to say because I grew up in a home that really stifled my voice in that silence was just too different for me. So for me, finding online spaces where I could express myself was some kind of liberation.


And, you know, ever since that time, I think I got opportunities to keep teaching myself around storytelling and online engagement over all these years. And it helped me understand the psychology of online users, you know, because social media is a lot if you're not used to it, if you don't know how it works and all these techniques, it can overwhelm you, you know. So for me, I think it's been more than I think ten years now of doing online writing and social media and storytelling as well, both online and offline.


So I understand all these dynamics. And also just because I'm a stubborn human being, I really I believe in the power of, like courage and people coming out to their stories because everybody's stories, everybody's story is really valid.


And the fact that people feel they cannot speak up about their own pain is my motivator, because that's what I want to happen. And that's my way of bringing change in the little space that I have influencing.


You mentioned you have twenty five members within the community. How did you get your your first members together? How did you bring them in?


So I'll give a little background to that now. Earlier in twenty nineteen.


Is it twenty nineteen. Yes, I just woke up one day and because I've been doing mental health advocacy for quite a while, I put up a post on my social media pages that I'm I'm beginning a mental health support group that's going to be online, particularly on our sub-group.


And 200 people go back to me saying, you know, please, we'd like to join. So I, I put up two pages, like two groups that was like, you know, one hundred, one hundred people each.


And, you know, we just developed some basic community guidelines. But for most parts, I wanted these people to own the space and and run it the way they wanted. They wanted it to run. And so I think that gave me a bit of an idea of how I would draw I want to run a support group, but also beyond that, because I had been doing community events for quite a while, ever since 2013, I've been managing people and managing a safe space was something that was not entirely new to me.


So when I particularly wanted to begin a safe space for men, I did the same thing. I got online and I made the call out and so people started reaching out.


And so that has also been like very like there's so many things I've been learning, especially around how men approach you and they need to talk to you, especially about something like that, because first of all, it's mostly a very new area to them and they take a bit of time to even trust, you know, and because they they they live with the shame they live with, they fear the stigma is also really big in their everyday life.


So, I mean, one by one, they just kept coming, kept coming. And, you know, we just developed this space. And what shared activities do you take with the members just to, you know, bring them together and give them a sense of belonging and togetherness?


Yes. So one thing is we have this healing Sakalys that we use stories so each person has usually their own day in the beginning.


First to just share, you know, what happens to them. For most of these people, it was their first ever time to ever, ever see their story. And so they finally got a space to actually share that, you know, and I mean, for that, it's like it's the first step to somebody even, you know, getting free, because for most of them, it's it's like an internal wound, which they've never really even managed or even known how to deal with it.


And the other thing I have these tools which I help them, that help with regulating their emotions, especially because most of them also are dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders and depression and also self-esteem issues and all of that. So we all I also divide them into like peer groups where I give them things like assignments they go and do together. They come back, they report. And this is what I learned this time. This is what I learned at that time.


But the idea as they move forward is I want to create physical wellness centers where now we could have physical places where we could actually sit and talk and probably even have them in that space just somewhere far from town where I could be with them for like a week or two weeks. And, you know, we keep developing these programs. So it's still very much a work in progress. But I said I have to start because I can't I can't wait until I get so much money to create a physical space because that's going to take forever.


And just diving into the operational basics, you know, building communities hard and it must be especially hard because a lot of stigmatization and fear of emasculation know that's been directed towards the members. Is there anything you would recommend to fellow community builders, what gathering people know around a topic that the rest of society may stigmatize?


I think understanding the sensitivity of what you're dealing with is the first thing you really have to understand the nature of your community, because communities are very, very unique. They're very diverse.


You also have to have done your work.


That's another very important point, just so that you could also avoid projecting any any issues that might affect the community in a way or another, because everybody is coming that that was their up. You know, they're in pain. They're they're looking for healing. They're looking for this thing. So you you need to really have checked your emotions. As for me, I go to therapy a lot, you know, because, I mean, all the stories that I deal with almost every day and even outside this place, because so many people reach out to me for so many things, I might always need to check in with my emotions to know how am I doing, where am I, what do I need to change and things like that just to to take care of myself, which is something very important to me.


But if if you're anywhere and you're trying to build up a community, knowing the nature of the community, knowing yourself is very important, but mostly to create safety in all manner of ways possible. And I think that's one of the shortcomings most of us have because of lack of capacity building. We still do not know what safety looks like in a safe space because most of us actually have never even had one, you know, so it takes a lot of work.


It takes a lot of collaboration. It takes a lot of understanding and a lot of emotional intelligence as well.


I really like the point on, you know, also just taking care of yourself. I think sometimes we get too caught up in trying to the members of our community that we forget to take care of ourselves, that we can better serve the community as well. So I like I like that. What have you learnt about community building in general? You know, just from running the company? Oh, that people are people are really powerful when they are given a chance to be themselves.


People are really powerful, like you might find anybody, like somebody you might see for the first time and you might think they don't have much to offer.


But the moment they are given safety and they're given space to exist in their flight, they would amaze you.


And it just gives me an imagination of what kind of a country we can create. If we keep dealing with a lot of the internal traumas, we may have some some of these traumas are communal. Some of them are tribal, some of them are national. Some of them are continental. They're on very different lands. So I just keep imagining, like, if more people get access to healing, if they get access to regulation of their bodies and emotions, like how much more can we do with Africa?


You know, and if I see it in small bits in the with a few people I work with, it gives me so much hope that the work I'm doing makes some kind of sense and that people can be able to be productive with their own lives if they are given a chance to imagine themselves being better.


You also mentioned you host the podcast, the Afro Masculinity podcast. Could you share a little bit more about that project and how the podcast serves? No money as a community.


So a little background about that. Last year I was working with an organization called Greenspring Network. We were doing trauma healing circles for some community members, which communities which had been exposed to a lot of violence. And we are also partnering with Kenya police for this trauma healing circle. So we will go to the colleges like D.C.I or JSU or Kagwanja with the national police colleges that and would have like this healing circles, especially in the beginning with their facilitators, just to have an understanding of who they are and the things they go through, the nature of their work, the syllabus, the the they have to go through and stuff like that.


And again, working with the police, the the service has probably three quarters of the officers are men. And so a lot of these stories will come out and you'd imagine so many of them still struggle with even how to express themselves. They struggle with understanding how that system works because, I mean, they're they're working and they're exposed to so much dehumanizing working environments. And it just creates a very vicious cycle of violence because a lot of a lot of how they operate also proliferates a lot of these extrajudicial killings.


We are seeing a lot of the bribery, a lot of the corruption, and it's still connected to the grand corruption that is in government. And so it's still very there's so many complex issues. So in hindsight, I kept wondering I've always been curious about the African mine because, I mean, my dad being violent the way he was when I was young and coming from a polygamous home himself, I had so many uncles. I mean, my grandpa had like 30 kids.


And I mean, it was such a it wasn't a car seat in a village. So we were so many people. And I mean, we were so many people, like sometimes I don't even know some of my cousins names, like we are so many and I mean, growing in that kind of an environment. I witnessed so many things about how men behaved and about how women were treated. And I always, always questioned and there was nobody to tell me these issues.


So when it was beginning, I suffered a bit of an anxiety around early April over there. And I was like, no, we couldn't do the college workshops anymore because there was no more traveling. So I sort of just resigned from the work and I said, I want to build up something different from this trauma healing work, but on a different trajectory. And so because there's barely I mean, I've been working with a lot of and partnering with a lot of feminist organizations for different activities.


And I've always really just been almost jealous of how women organized, you know, the way they come together. They teach each other things. They you know, they want to dismantle the patriarchy. They they're working together in groups.


But these guys have nothing else. Guys really have nothing. And I'm like, we continue being the problem because there's nothing happening around how we could understand ourselves as men. We go through so much violence from childhood and we do not know how this upbringings and social conditionings translate in our adult lives. You know, and so I was really curious about. And so I wanted to start the podcast to actually delve into those issues internally and very, very explicitly just so that the people around me, the men around who who would have a curiosity to want to be better to to to to be healthier as human beings would have an idea of the things they could do, but also because we have very little understanding of who the African man is, you know, because for most parts of Africa, one exists almost just as a tool of labor.


And that's the one thing I also wanted to demystify. Where does that come from? What is it connected to? What is the historical underpinning of that? And how has it led us to where we are today, even as to contribute to a lot of the gender based violence we witness?


Hey, yo, hey, Kevin Quinn here, the Get Together podcast is a project by people in a company that's a small strategy company that I started with, your main podcast host Bayly and our friend Kai.


Although communities feel magical, they don't come together by magic. Whether you want to connect superfans, breathe life into an online group, or bring a remote team closer together, figuring out how to structure any community building investment can be disorienting.


You know, where do we start?


What are the common pitfalls? How do we avoid going too far in the wrong direction at people in a company we've coached OG's like Nike, Porche Substract and the Surfrider Foundation on how to make smart bets to start and sustain communities.


Bringing people closer together in this way isn't a short term strategy. It's a long term play that can transform a company across the board. If you lead an organization and have a hunch that there's a group of people you could be doing more with building with us so we can help you get started, you won't be able to turn this on at a moment's notice.


It's an investment. So if you're seeking a trail guide to give your team the best chance at sparking a community, reach out to us at people in company. We do sprints, labs, coaching and would love to chat. You can find us at people and company.


I'm getting so excited listening to you, such awesome work you're doing, and I don't know as much about the African man specifically, obviously having never lived there, but it feels like work that should be happening everywhere.


And I, I just I remember someone once describing, you know, that feminism was in some ways the way that women come together to talk about the future that they want, you know, and you need to talk about your current world to understand also what might change and what could be better.


But I realized when I read that, that I that the argument was sort of that men don't really have an equivalent and they they aren't able to.


Have sort of a container for discussing how men might evolve, and I think this work is so important everywhere. So just to say as a comment, really, I'm so glad you're doing it.


Yeah, actually, one of the learnings I got was, you know, because understandably, women are way much more repressed globally. We do have more initiatives that, you know, try to get the girls and women to some kind of equilibrium with society. But equally like just so many, especially black men who are down there and they are beaten up by how the system operates, how patriarchy itself operates, and where women are actually doing nearly everything to topple the patriarchy.


Men also need to get in on the work, but they can't understand how that patriarchy itself oppresses them because they have this a you know, the way patriarchy is set up, it's it sort of gives an illusion to the mind that it's benefiting them.


But on the larger picture, it's actually still oppressing them. And that's one of the hardest challenges I've had is I mean, we barely have any donor organizations in this kind of space. We have we are much more in the feminist space, but there's not much funding coming to male programs because first of all, they are far in between, like they are being even existing. And even in Africa, it's even just it's like you can't even talk about it, you know.


Yeah, but it's all interacting, and I think you do such a good job of explaining that, that if we ignore half of the population in the conversation about about gender and how we see ourselves, these dynamics are going to continue to play out.


And just to build on that point on, you know, one of the biggest challenges has been finding. So what other challenges have you experienced from teams that are running? No need to know.


What are the challenge has to do with highlighting, you know, the way I've worked with feminist organizations for quite a while and I love the networks they have that networking is such a huge component of development. It's a huge component of progress.


But because very few people have an understanding of African masculinity, you barely have enough people even to reach out to when it comes to the need for collaboration. For example, even when I'm reaching out to people like collaboration's for psychotherapy, for example, who need to understand these survivors, they're very far in between, including male therapists.


They're very, very like very, very few people get that. So, I mean, and the problem is huge.


So that's like one of the other major challenges I'm having. Networking for me is really important. And I'm trying to reach out even to like on a continental scale, like other like healthy masculinity advocates in the continent who, you know, are trying to do this work. And, you know, I think just connecting with them is another thing that I think could help us even develop a future of, like, imagine what kind of a future the African male has.


But, yeah, on the networking issue, that's that's a big thing because very few people understand this work looking into the future.


What's what's the big dream phenomenon? Where do you see your money perhaps in the next five, five years, five to 10 years? Well, I'm seeing collaboration with the government to create physical wellness centers, I want to have as many events as possible across the country talking to men about their lives. So so far, because I've been doing like a crowdfunding thing campaign, I've been able to I wanted to also create a visual episode because visual is also really important.


And on it, I'm talking to adolescent boys, to middle aged boys, to older men on their stories and their lives, because for me, that documentation is very important, especially for the men who will come after us, who may not even still have those structures, but at least they will have the stories. At least it will give them some kind of direction and stuff. But I'd love even to hold conferences around masculinity, you know, and conferences that are in Africa around African masculinity.


I'd love us to like sort of imagine who we want to become just so that we don't we don't we don't just keep repeating what our fathers and forefathers have been doing. So I have no idea how that's going to happen. But my spirit feels very strongly about it that these things shall come to pass.


I hope all that comes to pass. And, you know, what advice can you give to aspiring community leaders who are looking to bring people together, especially when just as we talked about earlier around, you know, topics that may be difficult to have in the public eye because, you know, we have to applaud you for the work you're doing because it's not easy. It's the conversations that people tend to shy away from and would rather have in very closed settings.


But what advice would you give to someone out there who's looking to start a similar community?


The first thing is to understand yourself. You have to really know yourself. You really have to know who you are, because you have to be very, very grounded. You have to be extremely grounded.


You like being grounded and centered is the first priority for this work. The second thing is read as much as you can about what you want to do, talk to as many people as possible network, talk to as many people as possible about what you want to do, because that gives you a bigger frame of mind to know what you're really getting into. Some people walk with the emotion of this. This this is a brilliant idea that you just jump onto it.


And then in between it, you realize you didn't even have the proper tools to do the work. And so I think my background in working with communities over the years six, seven, eight, nine years now has given me a very good background to know what I want to do with the space and how I can manage it and how I can manage myself through it.


And so, for example, you know, I have very few resources to to read even about African masculinity. It's barely there. And a lot of the academic papers we have are also very, extremely expensive. So I have to often, like, use my own money to get access to these these materials so that I can even just read them and translate them into a podcast with my own content. It's a lot of work. So for me, I'm just like letting people know that in as much as it could be difficult when you have the will, then in the way the way presents itself, you know.


So self-knowledge, self actualization, understand the space that you want to create and work with the people because you can never really do these things alone. Not at all. Especially because it's not about you, but it's about the space you want to create in this space. The space actually virtually means the people on the power to their own stories.


They lead the the path to their own healing. We are only supporting, you know, we are only helping with tools. We are only supporting the ideas. We are only creating a room for for the imagination, you know. So again, you know, to remove yourself from the center to actually to just dissent on yourself from, you know, the highlight of what's happening inside there is very important. Yeah. Oh, I love that.


I think one of the mantras that people and company is building with people as opposed to building for. So it's it's good to hear that you're working together with your community just to create a safe space for them and the room for imagination.


That's such a great phrase and I love that. It's beautiful.


So I know you're a mental health advocate as well. And so in what ways have you in all these community? Initiatives that you've been running in, community activity that you've involved yourself in. In what ways has that also reflected in your walk around mental health and maybe perhaps even just being a little bit more about on that?


One of the things I'm really proud of is this advocacy has led to the amendment to be the mental health amendment bill that's currently in parliament right now. And we've been lobbying for government to just create better policies that will eventually bring more public funds to mental health care in this country. On the larger scale, I'm imagining this thing happening for Africa where, you know, I was in Canada in 2019 and I was so jazzed by the organization around mental health care that even though, yes, they were they were not like very sufficient.


But, you know, like there was a very good, almost national understanding of what mental health is and people talk about it and all that. But here again, language barrier is a big thing because not everybody speaks English. Not everybody will understand what depression is or schizophrenia or anything else mental, you know, because of these phrases we use. And so what I'm excited about or have been excited about the mental health outlook is it also gives us power to language because we can create these stories from from our own realities and come up with our own language about what we are going through.


But I love the fact that I've gained so much friendship, you know, and and love. I've met amazing people, some of whom were written off by their own families, written off by society, that they wouldn't do much, you know, with their lives. And because I really relate to that, it's just it's almost always a story of triumph, because I've been part of trying to support people in building their own resilience. And I think just with more advocacy and more lobbying, I mean, the future really looks bright.


How can listeners, you know, interested in being part of your money out? How can they be part of the community?


Um, so I think reaching out to me online would just be OK. Um, I am just found on Facebook as Onyango Otieno, my Instagram page reads poet. I'm also an expert on Twitter. I'm currently not very active on Twitter because my account was restricted because I tweet too much about trauma. So right now Facebook and Instagram or even email is possible. So that goes like Onyango home at Gitmo dot com. That's or go home at MULTICAM.


I'm pretty much of an Amazon is online, so it's easy to reach out to me and we could all disconnect. All right.


Thanks, Sonangol. Thank you for the work that you're doing. And I wish we we didn't all live so far away from each other, so someday I can meet you. But for the work that you're doing, maybe someday we'll cross paths.


I appreciate it. Thank you so much. Connectives and you can read my point. That's our I people on Twitter and Instagram, Onyango Otieno on Facebook and on Yambuku. Monkey Multidecadal, thank you to our team. Thank you. To design designer carbon engineering and editing Greg David for his design work and Katie O'Connell for marketing this episode.


You can find out more about the work that Kevin Chi and I do as people and company helping organizations get clear on who their most important communities are and how to build with those people by heading to our website people and that company. Also, if you want to start your own community or supercharge one, you're already a part of our handbook is here for you. Does it get together book dotcom to grab a copy? It's full of stories and learnings from conversations with community leaders like this one with Onyango.


And last thing, you don't mind if you enjoyed this podcast, please review us or click subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


It helps get these stories out to more people. Oh, awesome. We'll see you next time.