Meet the Volunteers


Sonya Rehman

Lead Volunteer – Lahore, Pakistan

It takes courage to Free Listen.  Making yourself available to strangers, being present with their story, and opening yourself to a new experience can be challenging.  

But, if you think Free Listening in your town would be difficult, imagine what it would be like to Free Listen in Pakistan.

Meet our Lead Volunteer, Sonya Rehman, from Lahore, Pakistan.

We think she’s amazing.

We’re sure you will too.

UC: Tell us three things about yourself that everyone knows.

Sonya: I’m a proud Pakistani, a journalist and a teacher based in the city of Lahore! 

UC: Tell us three things about yourself that no one knows.

Sonya: Ooh dear – okay; it can take me months to get over the trauma of watching a horror flick (hate horror movies, just hate them), have a sickening obsession with earrings (too many to count), tore up and burnt all my personal journals over the years (wish I hadn’t). 

UC: What was it like to go Free Listening? Any stories you would like to share?

Sonya: It was wonderful – my friends and I had so many intriguing and heartbreaking conversations centered around daily life struggles, the politics of our nation and the importance of giving back to society. I’ll never forget the experience. 

UC: How has the Urban Confessional movement effected your life?

Sonya: I’ve never been the judgmental type, but I guess the experience of doing an Urban Confessional in my own city has made me more sensitized to my people and their struggles. Also this: everyone has a story – everyone. The more you listen to people and connect with them, the more you’ll benefit from the experience – it opens up your mind (and heart). 

UC: What are your dreams?

Sonya: To buy my mother a cottage in the mountains, up north in Pakistan and to quit working altogether and just focus on my writing: journalism and fiction. Living paycheck to paycheck saps every ounce of creativity out of you. 

UC: What is one thing you want the world to know?

Sonya: This ‘Me Me’ culture has got to stop – we’re turning into self-sabotaging narcissists suffering from anxiety, depression and a cocktail of other stresses. The cure is in service of those around you – takes the attention away from yourself.

Chiara McCarty

Director of Volunteer Listening

Chiara is one of the most amazing people in the world and without her, the movement would come to a standstill! Here’s a little about her...

UC: Tell us three things about yourself that everyone knows.

Chiara: 1. I am Italian. Like, 100% Italian. From Italy. Migrated to the U.S. with my family kind of thing :) 2. I am an artist, an actress. And a wife, and a daughter, and a sister, and a friend. 3. I love my dog, Molly.

UC: Tell us four things about yourself that no one knows:

Chiara: 1. I'm an awesome cook. 2. I speak better Italian than English. As my husband would say, "Sometimes you speak fake English." 3. I come across as put together and like I've got my life figured out, but I actually have deep anxieties about life. 4. I have a Bachelor's in Comparative Literature from UCLA

UC: What was it like to go Free Listening? Any stories you would like to share?

Chiara: Free Listening for the first time was a little scary, and at the same time freeing. Scary because you don't really know what it's going to be like, and any expectation you may have is usually thrown out the window, which is exactly what makes it freeing; there is a great amount of peace in not having any expectations. You can just BE. Just be with people. It's refreshing.

There is one particular time while Free Listening that sticks out to me.

I was standing near a bus stop. It was late in the afternoon. A young man, maybe in his early twenties, came up to me and asked me if I knew what bus went where. Didn't even look at the Free Listening sign I was holding. I kind of knew the bus routes, so I gave him the little information I had. I don't know that I was much help, but he thanked me and didn't walk away but stood right by me, looking down the street, waiting for the bus to appear. After a minute or two, he thanked me again and began to tell me about his friends. He had been out with his friends all day. I don't remember where they had been, but they had had a few drinks and were having a good time together, until things got a little fuzzy. He ended up losing his phone, and his friends had left him stranded.

"They just left me. What kind of friends are those?"

His arms were crossed, as though he were trying to hold his heart in place. It may not seem like a big deal, that his friends had left him alone in the middle of nowhere; I mean, there are worse things. But in that moment he felt abandoned and lonely and hurt, and he just needed someone. And I happened to be there. Willing to just BE with him.

He talked to me for quite a while and I don't remember all of the details now, but when the bus came, he looked me in the eyes, smiled gently and said, "Thanks for listening."

I really didn't have to do much or say much; all I needed to do was be there and listen.

UC: How has the Urban Confessional movement affected your life? 

Chiara: The Urban Confessional movement has given me a softer heart for people. Through the stories I have personally listened to and the stories from other volunteers, I have come to realize that we are not all that different. We all have burdens and a deep need to be loved. Most people might think, "Well, duh! That's obvious." And yes, the concept that we are all the same is not a new or profound one. But sometimes you need a more tangible way of understanding that. Urban Confessional does just that. Listening opens up opportunities to actually SEE a person, not just LOOK at someone. Looking doesn't take much; seeing requires us to connect and empathize, and it shows us how to truly be compassionate and love someone.

UC: What are your dreams? 

Chiara: To make films that tell inspiring and challenging stories that move people, stories that open people's minds to different perspectives – stories that give others a voice, stories of hope. To have kids. To travel the world and adventure with my husband. To live a life of purpose.

UC: What is one thing you want the world to know?

Chiara: You are never alone. There is someone out there who loves you more than you could ever imagine, someone who sees all of your scars and still believes you are beautiful, someone who knows everything you've done, good and bad, and still accepts you for who you are. You are deeply loved.

More volunteer profiles coming soon