The Uncommon Man

August 09, 2006

MRI in the news: The Republican

Elizabeth Roman, a reporter from the Springfield Republican, stopped by the office with a photographer to interview MRI staff members, Steven Botkin and James Arana about their recent trip to Zambia.

The article, compete with large color photo, ran in today’s Republican in the Neighborhoods Plus section. It also ran in the Hampshire and Franklin County Plus section earlier this week. It is accessible online at

Since the interview, Elizabeth has remained interested in MRI’s work: reading our blog, keeping in touch, and requesting updates about future programs. Hurray for Elizabeth!

Program helps Africans face fears about AIDs
Wednesday, August 09, 2006

SPRINGFIELD - For three days it was safe for the young men and women of Zambia, Africa, to openly discuss their experiences of violence, and their fears and questions about AIDS, without being chastised or judged.

For them, it was a breakthrough.

"We wanted them to feel safe, and to know that we were not there to judge them," said Steven Botkin, of Pelham, founder and executive director of Men's Resources International, a nonprofit organization based in Springfield that works with men's groups wanting to establish gender equality and "prevent violence and support peace."

Recently Botkin and James Arana, program director, spent 10 days in Zambia on behalf of Men's Resources International, providing gender sensitivity training and raising awareness of reproductive health, HIV and AIDS.

"A man named (Stephen) Mbati was hired by the YWCA in Zambia to create the Zambia Men's Network," explained Arana, who lives in the Florence section of Northampton. "He was feeling isolated and having trouble getting men interested, so he went online and found us through our Web site."

After communicating for more than a year and having Mbati come to the United States to see how theirs and similar organizations are run, Botkin and Arana made the trip to Lusaka, Zambia. Twenty men, including a Nigerian delegate, and four women participated in the training, which was hosted by the YWCA and funded by private U.S. donors.

"These were men between the ages of 19-35 eager to share and hear from the women as well about their experiences with violence," Botkin said. "A lot of the topics we discuss can make people uncomfortable, but this group was more receptive than any group I've ever worked with."

The training included team building, storytelling and other exercises geared toward emotional healing and awareness.

"Many of the problems they face are easy to identify with, but there are also problems that are unique to them,"' Botkin explained.

While domestic violence and gender inequality are major issues there are also problems like a common myth which says if a man has sex with a virgin it will cure AIDS.

"That's actually a significant problem. People have a lot of false information which can be dangerous," Botkin said.

As an opening exercise the participants held a bamboo stick labeled the talking stick. When a person held the stick they could speak freely.

"What we found was that that many of these men have lived through violence. They have seen it with their parents or been part of it with their wives," Arana said. "They know something is wrong, but they don't know what to do about it."

Botkin and Arana said having women in the group made the experience even better.

"In one exercise we put the women in a small circle, and the men in a larger circle around them. The women shared their own experiences with violence, and all the men did was listen," Botkin said. "The three days were full of these powerful moments where people could share their suffering and start to heal."

Arana and Botkin hope to conduct a training session with young men in Springfield in the fall. For more information or to get involved go to or call (413) 214-6797.

Posted by Daniel at August 9, 2006 12:26 PM


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