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Connecting with CORAT: A Look Into Faith Training


Pictured (left to right) are our interviewees/interviewers from CORAT, UNICEF, and JLI:
Fred Olweny, Stephanie Oyolu, Monica Mungai, Steffie Kemp, Stella Hong

November 3, 2021. For many faith leaders and faith-based organizations (FBOs), participating in faith trainings is expected to be a one-time engagement. There is often limited follow-up, and projects may not receive the full technical and financial support necessary to achieve their objectives. However, Fred Olweny, programmes manager of the Christian Organization Research and Advisory Trust of Africa (CORAT Africa), has had a wildly different experience. Fred, and his colleague and deputy principal of CORAT, Monica Mungai, recently sat down with us to share how Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families, and Communities (FPCC) and its Mind-Heart Dialogue initiative have impacted their work and their communities so far.

FPCC is a global initiative established in 2018 to promote meaningful approaches to faith engagement with the goal of influencing positive change for children, families, and communities. FPCC is a tripartite partnership between UNICEF, Religions for Peace— the world’s largest multi-faith convenor and faith-based knowledge partner— and the Joint Learning Initiative on Local Faith Communities (JLI), which is an umbrella organization of international and local FBOs. FPCC aims to move away from instrumentalist and single-sector approaches to faith engagement and, instead, embrace long-term, community-based, and interfaith efforts to promote change. 

FPCC’s foundational engagement framework is Mind-Heart Dialogue, which is an evidence-based, reflective process through which to engage faith actors and development partners in discussing barriers and planning solutions to change. While FPCC first piloted Mind-Heart Dialogue approach in five African countries in 2019, the initiative is now developing a training model that will enable the rollout of this approach across all UNICEF regions and country offices. 

Attending one of the initial core team training sessions provided us with a first-hand glimpse at the content and process of the program being coordinated by the training institution, CORAT. The FPCC “masters” training model has set out to train a core group of experienced faith actors in the principles and purpose of FPCC and Mind-Heart Dialogue approach so that, in turn, they will be able to train about 12 facilitators in each country to form a National Mind-Heart Dialogue Team. The training and mentorship is expected to take place over a period of 6-9 months. The ultimate goal of the FPCC training and mentorship is to equip community leaders with the tools and skills to introduce this approach to their respective communities and self-sustain it.

CORAT, a faith-based organization, has conducted this training model in partnership with UNICEF and JLI.  Founded in 1975, CORAT commits to enabling effective leadership, management and accountability of faith actors through training, consultation services, and academic programs in collaboration with universities. While CORAT is a Christian institute, its training programs have incorporated individuals and groups from various faith communities. CORAT has participated in numerous faith engagement trainings and partnerships, but Fred and Monica highlighted what makes UNICEF's support for CORAT so unique. They also discussed plans to continue mentorship post-training, how the organization and its programming have adjusted to the digital format, and how to expand their outreach in the future. 

When asked how Mind-Heart Dialogue compared to other faith engagement trainings that CORAT has participated in, Fred emphasized that it felt as though UNICEF was embarking on a long-term endeavor alongside CORAT towards long-term positive change as opposed to providing one-off support. Fred also noted that support from UNICEF truly embodied the spirit of a partnership.  He expressed that the UNICEF team did not simply instruct CORAT on how to engage with the community but, rather, inquired “How can we work together?” 

In terms of sustaining mentorship after the completion of the master training, Monica was hopeful that participants would continue to apply what they had learned, due, in part, to CORAT’s practice of creating action plans. Monica spoke on the importance of establishing mechanisms to engage in follow-ups so that efforts towards change would not end when WorkRocks was complete. Meant to be an enjoyable and engaging experience, the ‘WorkRocks’ process combines the Mind-Heart Dialogue with action planning, aiming to do more than simulate a one-time workshop. Rather, “the ‘rock’ signifies a process based on solid evidence of effective, systemic approaches and a strong, stable foundation for ongoing partnership (not a transactional ‘shop’).


 Fred also echoed the importance of long-term efforts, adding that a goal of theirs is to move away from the idea of one-time workshops or instructing community members on what to think and feel. One of the organization’s aims is to pass on skills to the community so that they may feel empowered to promote this change on their own— eventually without even requiring the support of UNICEF.  

Originally planned as an in-person training, CORAT faced the challenge, as many of us have in the past year, of having to adapt its methodology to a virtual format. Our friends at CORAT expressed that in-person programming would be ideal, particularly because physical environments encourage real time responses and allow the opportunity to provide more immediate support when necessary. However, the facilitators have made great use of the virtual tools available to them and are still appreciative of the ability to modify the training to the current circumstances. While Fred and Monica did note some of the limitations of only having a virtual platform such as poor internet connectivity and other technical difficulties, they also remarked that conducting the trainings virtually has been less costly when considering the challenges COVID-19 has posed and the cost— monetary, health, or otherwise— of bringing people across various countries to one place. 

The two shared several other reflections on the experience. Fred commented that through the dialogues and other exercises, he observed that many of the adults had several forms of trauma in common: inaccessibility to schools, food insecurity, neglect, and abuse. He also noted that the dialogues presented the opportunity to critically discuss how sometimes common cultural practices have unintended harms. Monica added to this point, explaining that through planning the trainings, even facilitators themselves had realizations concerning how some of their past attitudes or actions may have had a negative impact contrary to promoting positive change for the community. She asserted that, if taken seriously, this dialogic approach has the potential to change the world for children. The impact that these trainings could have beyond CORAT was a recurring theme throughout the conversation.

While CORAT has initially been working with 8 African countries, the organization is considering how it can reach other regions or groups who are ready and interested in participating in Mind-Heart Dialogues and actualizing positive change. Fred emphasized that at the end of the day, Mind-Heart Dialogue is an approach that various actors can employ whether FBOs, international organizations, or governments. He felt strongly that UNICEF should invest in this framework and that even other UN bodies could benefit from Mind-Heart Dialogues. Fred and Monica’s passion for their work was palpable and indicative of the power that being presented with new perspectives can have on a community.


By: Stephanie Oyolu, UNICEF Intern from Occidental College

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with young children during the inauguration of the Tong Len hostile in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 19, 2011. (Photo by Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL)

















                                  Participants of Malawi Engaging in a Mind-Heart Dialogue Training Activity

December 13, 2021. Throughout November and December of 2021, eight FPCC pilot countries— Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Sierra Leone— participated in a training program over the course of four days to learn and experience the Mind-Heart Dialogue methodology of FPCC (Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families, and Communities) Initiative. Across all eight countries, over 80 Faith actors participated in the Mind-Heart Dialogue training. Moreover, the trainings included people not only representing a variety of religions, such as Christianity and Islam, but also other identities. There were women, men, and youth of faith participating. 

Mind-Heart Dialogue is a learning process that allows participants to reflect on their faith convictions, personal experiences and knowledge as a means to influence positive social and behavioral change. As the diagram below illustrates, this approach aims to connect people’s faiths (for example, scriptures, religious teachings, rituals) with aspects of the mind (e.g. research, science/fact, technical knowledge and expertise) and the heart (e.g. emotions, memories, social norms).














                                                                                          Diagram of Mind-Heart Dialogue


Mind and Heart Dialogue can be applied to any area of desired social and behavioral change. For this training program, the three focus result areas for children are Vaccine Demand Generation, Education and Back-to-School, and Violence Against Children. 

The eight participating countries were selected based on their interest in the framework and previous engagement with FPCC.  Before this point, FPCC had conducted global-level "master trainings" with trainers who served as facilitators for the training program within the pilot countries. The purpose of the FPCC training model is to equip a select group of Faith actors with the skills and tools necessary to lead faith communities in dialogue and action towards positive social and behavioral change. The country-level trainings were facilitated by teams composed of women, men, and youth faith leaders of diverse faiths and identities.


                                                                    Participants of Sierra Leone Mind-Heart Dialogue Training

Each of the four days of training had an assigned theme and a set of related activities and exercises to promote discussion and understanding: (1) "Faith and Childhood," (2) "Going Deep" (community-specific foci), (3) "Creating Our Transformation Tree” (reflection on all component parts for change), and (4) "Next Steps." The facilitators kicked off the first day of the program by setting ground rules and expectations for the four-day training. They began by introducing Mind-Heart Dialogue as a concept and discussed how communities, families, and children can generally benefit from it. The Facilitator team then established the importance of creating a safe space, that is, a space where participants feel they can share their opinions and experiences without judgment or backlash. With respect to the first day's theme of Faith and Childhood, participants were prompted to reflect on the impact that faith had on their own childhoods. This opportunity for introspection then led facilitators to impart and emphasize the importance of listening to children’s voices.

Similar to the Core Team Training at the global level, the country-level training allowed countries the opportunity to apply the mind-heart framework to thematic areas of focus that were specific to their countries and communities. Day 2 allowed participants to delve more deeply into issues that especially affect their respective communities. These areas of focus reflected important social issues that local Faith groups hope to address in their existing and future work. For example, the training models in Malawi and Zambia centered on vaccine hesitancy while Kenya broadly explored additional issues affecting children. 

Day 3, "Creating Our Transformation Tree," centered on fostering sustainable change. The Transformation Tree illustrates the process through which Faith actors support long-term social and behavioral change for children. The trunk of the tree symbolizes the foundational goals of the whole approach. This includes mobilizing faith groups and communities to integrate the Mind-Heart Dialogue into their daily work and lives. The roots of the tree represent the quality of formed partnerships. Without strong roots, the end result of a robust, fruitful tree⁠ will not be manifested. The leaves model the changes in attitude and behaviour required to bear fruit while the branches are the strategies and mechanisms put in place to motivate that change. In the model, changes are the beautiful mango fruit that the tree bears upon ⁠achieving positive social and behavioral change for the benefit of children’s growth and development. Sustainable change requires the adoption of all the elements of the Transformation Tree.




                                                                                Example of a Transformation Tree for FPCC

The final day of training focused on what future steps should be taken to further community members' nascent understanding of Mind-Heart Dialogue. Discussion focused on what it means to be active participants in a partnership at the local and national level. Participants expressed great satisfaction and new perspectives from the activities they participated in. For example, a participant from Burkina Faso stated,

“I really appreciate the Mind-Heart Dialogue and I admit that it has already positively changed my perspective on children and their real needs. The methodology used is very adaptable for children and for adults and is fun. These four days have allowed me to play and also to remember lots of things.”

The change in participants’ own attitudes also demonstrated the powerful impact of the Mind-Heart Dialogue approach. Some attendees in Zambia entered the space feeling vaccine hesitant. However, after participating in several activities, such as “Agree-Disagree” and “Participatory Drama”, they shifted to being determined advocates. In “Agree-Disagree,” participants shared their honest thoughts, fears, and hesitations about vaccination in a safe space by responding to questions without a factual answer – such as whether front-line staff should be forced to get vaccinated. Throughout this dialogue, UNICEF staff integrated facts about COVID and vaccination, providing relevant information in a non-confrontational way and answering any questions. In “Participatory Drama,” attendees engaged in a role-playing simulation where they took on different characters considering vaccination, empathised with different views and identified what would have helped their character change their attitude/ behaviour. At the end of the day, attendees made personal commitments to receive the vaccine or create opportunities in their faith community for other people to learn how the vaccine works.

After the four days of training in the Mind-Heart Dialogue approach, participants from all countries expressed greater confidence in their ability to not only positively shift mindsets but also to “create an experience [to] replicate for others.” Moreover, the attendees expressed changes in their own mindsets. They demonstrated great excitement and a vested interest in integrating this methodology into their own work and lives because they recognized the effectiveness of the Mind-Heart Dialogue approach. After completing the training, a participant from Sierra Leone shared, 

“It was really mind-blowing and goes back to some of the issues that led some of the children to be where they are today, because of our collective actions in the lives of the children. Today we are blaming the children without realising that we have played a great role in the outcomes we see in their lives today… this will always be in my mind and wherever I go, I’ll make sure I try to bring it wherever I go, so people can engage in dialogue, whether parents or guardians or politicians.”

The Mind-Heart Dialogue training is a powerful way to empower local faith-based actors to influence their communities in positive ways. Moreover, these trainings help strengthen local networks between faith-based actors and larger international organizations, such as Inter-Religious Councils (IRCs) and UNICEF, creating what are known as Multi-Faith Action Committees for Children, Families, and Communities (MFACCs). Through MFACCs UNICEF hopes to support a country-level plan of action that will save and improve the lives of children, families, and their communities.


By: Stella Hong and Stephanie Oyolu, UNICEF Interns from Occidental College

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