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Amal’s Active Listening Project: A community initiative to increase accessibility to services

Muslim women face external systemic discrimination, such as different treatment in health care settings. But, they also experience psychosocial distress due to daily stressors. For instance, some women who come to Amal are living through domestic abuse, financial abuse, strained familial relationships, etc. Most of the beneficiaries of Amal are also immigrant women who along with experiencing systemic discrimination from care providers also have lower access to services or face language barriers. Another element to consider is the cost tied to services. If a woman is being financially abused, then accessing relevant care may not be possible for her. According to client records as collected by our intervention team in 2020, approximately 67% of the families we serve live under the Montreal-area poverty line and almost all the individuals we serve live under the Montreal-area poverty line. And so, Amal’s new active listening project is absolutely essential and distinct from other services, such as hotlines.

Specifically, the project aims to empower volunteers at the centre with active listening training to bridge the increasing needs of the community given the Covid-19 context. The services are provided in partnership and with sponsorship from Islamic Relief Canada, in line with the nation-wide strategic focus on supporting victims of gender-based violence and reinforcing the availability of culturally safe services. We anticipate that this project will allow us to improve our center’s capacity to respond to increasing community needs and will contribute to the resilience of this community in the face of COVID19 and well beyond.

Along with providing another set of culturally safe services, this project ensures better accessibility to services. Based on average service rates for our center, we anticipate that over a 12-month period our project will directly touch over 400 women, indirectly benefiting their families and children. The active listening project can be reframed as “friendly phone call services”, as one volunteer put it. It consists of providing clients with a non-judgemental ear and focuses on placing clients at the center of the help they wish to receive. It ensures trust between clients and volunteers because clients can identify themselves with the volunteer. “Having a listening ear in your language – a non-judgemental listening ear in your language – that you can say anything to, and you observe that the person does not judge you or overact to anything that you say” greatly helps women open-up and makes them feel seen and supported.

This program extends beyond the immediate help and focuses on developing a sustainable program. For instance, because of being able to identify with the active listeners, clients will not feel ‘othered’. Benefits of this program also include all members involved. For instance, Amal’s staff and volunteers are extremely devoted to both the center and its clients and will benefit by receiving process-based training, skills development, and the opportunity to acquire meaningful work experience. This is a precious opportunity for the women of our community, who report facing difficulties accessing work experiences that are linked to their careers of choice. Lastly, there is a specific roster of partners who share our Center’s values of openness, tolerance and culturally sensitive approaches, and the development of these follow-up services will facilitate the flow of beneficiaries between services, increasing linkages and synergies between organizations.