• Simona Rosenfield

Through the Lens of Compassion

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Let's face it, like any urban metropolis, Montreal has its share of a vulnerable population that is often set aside and ignored: the homeless and those with limited access to legal housing advice. But thankfully, there are some dedicated groups of people who do their best to offer services through listening, intervention and collaborative support, such as FACE À FACE, albeit with the most meagre sources of financing. Fundraising has become a necessary step in their survival and they accomplish this annually through the loyal support of the community it seeks to serve. Simona Rosenfield tells us about this year's artistic endeavour as she explains how active listening can change lives.



Photo: Daniel L. Côté Studio

Do you know what’s really hard to do? Listen—actually listen—to somebody. I see it all the time: miscommunications, distractions, assumptions, expectations, context, and pretext muddling the waters of interaction between people.


The antidote to this is, of course, open, active, compassionate listening.


But who engages and listens actively anymore? And as much as I’d like to convince myself otherwise, texting while someone is talking to you doesn’t count as active listening, even if you’re really good at multitasking.


Feeling heard, and connecting on that basis is a fundamental need, one that everyone deserves access to. Montreal nonprofit Face à Face has devoted 37 years to this cause by offering a volunteer-run “active listening line” from 9 to 5 every day, on-site sessions by volunteers, and many more services that range from assisting those in precarious housing situations, to directing individuals to free legal council.

“Just simply listening to someone actively tends to be something that is dismissed,” says Face à Face’s Executive Director, Grace Fontes. “But it is the foundation, the very basic step that we need in order to better understand what is going on with an individual.”


Demonstrating the power of listening, the goal of their recent vernissage fundraiser titled, “Montréal On Écoute, We Hear You Montreal” that took place in June at the Montreal Art Centre, proved a powerful message to the community: everyone has a story, and every story has value.



Left Photo: Eric Bélanger Photographe, Top Photo: Nilu, Right Photo: Terrie Reyes, Bottom Photo: Fisheye Productions

How did the photo series come about? Equipped with cameras, a team of volunteer photographers, journalists and an intervention worker scoured the city for subjects to participate in the project, wherein they put their listening skills to action, and gathered stories that are not usually told.


With an emphasis on the individual, not the problem, Face à Face addressed the questions, “How do we promote people who’ve experienced different difficult life experiences?” and “What kind of creative ways can we demonstrate to people how we have so many commonalities?”


With photos selling for $50, and some as silent auction photos, the event amassed over $4000 for the nonprofit, funds that will go directly to serving the community. “It’s a young audience. So the fact that we had a lot of people coming in and spending 50 bucks on a photograph to me says that the potential is out there, and people are doing what they can with what they have,” says Fontes.


“I think that besides the money component, there’s the fact that we touched people, we moved people, and we motivated and encouraged people to participate, to donate, to come out and hear other stories.”

Face à Face has a fierce support system, with over 200 volunteers working on the frontlines throughout the year, which amounts to “over $100,000 of volunteer hours,” according to Fundraising Coordinator at Face-à-Face, Felicia Russo. Volunteers spend their time doing the near impossible— listening to callers and helping with “resources, apartments, counselling, intervention, depression, isolation, mental health.” Anyone is welcome to call, and everyone is invited to volunteer—don’t worry, you’re trained first.



Photo: Simona Rosenfeld

Support through listening can easily be taken for granted, especially if you have strong ties to friends or family. But this isn’t the reality for some, and it can be a huge source of suffering. “We cannot ask people to change, we cannot as people to get motivated, we cannot ask people to overcome their difficulties without them first having the opportunity to be heard, to be validated, to be supported,” says Fontes.


"Without active listening, you have no understanding. Once somebody feels understood, respected, their dignity intact, regardless of what they’ve been through, then they can move forward.”

“Montréal On Écoute, We Hear You Montreal” was a call to action from the community to the community: Montrealers— practice listening to one another with compassion and an open mind.


Written by Simona Rosenfield: @poemsbysimcha

To Volunteer or donate, please visit Face À Face: https://faceafacemontreal.org/



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