I recently attended an enriching evening of conversation with Bruna Kadletz and Jo Winsloe Slater, at an event entitled ‘heart-centred approaches to refugee integration’ at the ambient interfaith bedouin tent at St `Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London.

I felt a draw to attend to learn a little more about Bruna and Jo’s unique and grounded approaches of bringing open-hearted, interconnected awareness into humanitarian work.  With an international recruitment career in human resources teams within the not-for-profit, social enterprise and commercial sectors, I recognize the need for such engaged and compassionate leadership approaches to work, which both women are pioneering with integrity.  It was a wonderful experience, and I was equally inspired by the presence and contributions of all the fellow participants on the evening.

Bruna Kadletz is a co-founder of Circles of Hospitality, a Brazilian organization with a focus on developing social, cultural and educational initiatives which facilitate the integration process of newcomers, while cultivating a welcoming and friendly atmosphere within the local host society.  In 2009, Bruna left a promising career in dentistry to give her presence and energy to humanitarian needs, which have taken her to places such as South Africa, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.  Bruna is passionate about bringing together spiritual awareness and humanitarian work.

Jo Winsloe Slater is manager of Refugee Allies at St. Ethelburga’s.  She facilitates a dynamic social witness model of short-term volunteering that supports organisations working with displaced people in Europe.  She also hosts social events for London locals and newcomers to the UK, which I have also personally had the great pleasure to attend.  It is a vibrant intercultural space for all to meet beyond labels in shared humanity.

Bruna introduced her work by inviting us to consciously open a space in our hearts for people who are currently displaced.  She went on to share some of her experience from her recent visit to a refugee camp in the outskirts of the city of Halba, in a mountainous region in northern Lebanon which shelters over 150,000 Syrian children, women and men.  She compassionately shared some of the stark realities of the camp, where many individuals dream of returning to their homeland safely.  Hopes of moving to a welcoming European territory in an attempt to rebuild their lives have long faded away, after several years of being subjugated to punitive legislation and restriction of movement.

Listening to the living stories of people who, at this very moment, are still holding out in destitute places,  “waiting for God´s help because all other sources are exhausted” is a painful and deepening experience.  A few weeks on, and my heart still calls me for further reflection and listening to discern what is my inner and outer response now, having directly received this first-hand awareness from listening to Bruna share her experiences.

Bruna explained that her heart-centred approaches to humanitarian work is evolving from seeing the need in this demanding and challenging work for attentiveness, presence and awareness to one’s inner responses, intentions, motivations and interactions.  Humanitarian work always holds the potential of becoming overwhelming, numbing and disassociating, and as humanitarian and ecological crises escalate so the need for practices which support to keep one centred and connected, are becoming ever more necessary for those of us working in this sector.

The heart-centred approaches Bruna shared are rooted in a worldview that as living beings sharing this planet we are all interconnected.  She described this beautifully through the image of our heart as a gateway, to access our inter-related place of connection, wisdom and communication to “all that is”.   During our conversation together over the course of the evening Bruna’s invitation was for us to drop into our hearts and to cultivate a living relationship in which this worldview and state of being can become integrated into our approaches to daily life, relationships and work.  She reminded us of the wisdom of Joanna Macy, who speaks of the hidden potential present in our turbulent times of crises: “out of this darkness, a new world can arise, not to be constructed by our minds so much as to emerge from our dreams”.

We spent the second half of the evening in a natural and rich interplay of silence and conversation, the latter which involved a wealth of experiential wisdom being shared from fellow participants in the group. Bruna encouraged us to continue deepening the dialogue going forward and to explore in our own faith traditions the practices which can support us to cultivate our relationship with our heart – such as meditation,  silence, prayer, mindfulness, inner listening, writing, walking in nature, music, and so forth.

Having spent the evening in wholesome conversation in the presence of other individuals on similar paths, I left feeling a rich connection to community and a renewed sense of hope that a new story may very well indeed be emerging through individuals who are aspiring to live, relate and work in a heart-centred and compassionate way for the good of life.

Jo Winsloe

Programme Coordinator

Jo brings a wealth of experience from over twenty years co-ordinating projects in the fields of interfaith, social justice and social care in the non-governmental sector. During the winter of 2015/16 she and other members of the St Ethelburga staff team volunteered on the Greek island of Lesbos; an experience that inspired the co-creation of the programme, People of the Earth. She holds a Diploma in group facilitation, conflict resolution and counselling (NAOS) and is a graduate of the International School of Storytelling. She is a current Trustee of The Forgiveness Project.