Takeback Tuesday: grandmas on benches

Last week’s Tuesday post was from London, and this week I’m in Venice. Hard at work. (Yes, really!) One thing travel illustrates, to anyone who has ever doubted it: people all over got their troubles.  Country borders don’t draw a line on doubt and fear and pain. Not joy and laughter and affection, but unless it’s one of the years when they’re gauging the World’s Happiest Country, the positive tends to get left behind.

As I move around, I find it interesting to see how other places confront their problems—particularly those without the massive resources of the west when it comes to helping the individual crawl out of a hole. Places like Zimbabwe.

God knows the country has it problems—problems too huge to solve with a conversation. As a Guardian article says, one in four of its citizens suffers from some kind of mental illness, often rooted in deep poverty, domestic violence, AIDS. And yet the country is too poor to give the merely depressed full-fledged psychiatric treatment—not with only thirteen psychiatrists in all of Zimbabwe.

So they give love.

From the MHIN web site: http://www.mhinnovation.net/innovations/friendship-bench

There is a bench under a tree, where an old woman waits to listen. She’s not a professional, although she is trained—to listen. Would-be suicides sit down and talk. Single mothers faced with hopelessness find someone who understands. Victims of violence discover a community. Neighbors discover a sympathetic ear, finding they’re not as alone as they thought. That life is not as hopeless as it had seemed.

My own country has embraced its divisions: us right-thinkers versus Those People who want to destroy our way of life. But I’ve always found it interesting that when the personal comes into play, political commitment takes second place. I may be in favor of stronger immigration laws, but that doesn’t mean I want the sweet Mexican family next door to be sent away, or to get rid of the Muslim guy at work who ran the marathon to raise money for a stranger’s medical treatments. Or, I may think the current administration is a nightmare, but when my brother-in-law loses his job to an immigrant, I might understand (a little) why he voted as he did.

The Friendship Bench Project has a Facebook page, here. You could “like” them, if you are so inclined. And you could think about how to lend a sympathetic ear to someone in your own community, to let them know they’re not alone. As the Friendship Bench motto says:

Let’s talk about it!


  1. susan on May 11, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    what a wonderful article! i often think, we are all part of the human family. we need to LISTEN to each other and CARE for each other. it doesn’t have to be something big, something as small as holding adoor for someone or smiling goes a long way! what a great idea the listening bench is!

Leave a Comment