Going Where Torture Survivors Need CVT: Assessing Global Locations

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kristi Rendahl is CVT organizational development advisor.

The truth comes in many forms. A few months ago, I was in a hotel lobby in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, having tea with a Nigerian man who works for the U.S. Agency for International Development and discussing both the difficult situation in the northeast of Nigeria and our shared rural roots. I asked him about the rival herdsmen in the country who steal each other’s cattle and inquired how that’s even feasible. I grew up on a beef cattle farm, I told him, and in my experience cows don’t do what you want them to do. Well, you have to find the lead cow, he told me, and the rest will follow. I told him that we don’t seem to have lead cows and that maybe cows in the U.S. lack leadership skills.

These are conversations you can’t plan to have.

My trip to Abuja started in the CVT breakroom in Minnesota on a Wednesday morning when our director of international services asked if I could travel to Nigeria for work. I was between cups of tea and about to consume a piece of chocolate from the front desk candy jar. He continued to say that we had just been invited to submit a proposal to the Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, so we needed a team to conduct an on-the-ground assessment that would take place in a few weeks.

The whole purpose of an assessment trip – to gather information about the context, to meet with colleague organizations, and to better understand the needs of the affected communities – brings out the best in people. Personally, I love being part of assessment teams. I have done them in Quito, Ecuador, Beirut, Lebanon, and most recently, Abuja, Nigeria. For one week it is our primary responsibility to be as curious, collaborative and strategic as possible. Great team dynamics aren’t guaranteed in life, but I can say without exaggeration that I have loved each of those three assessment teams.

In the best case scenario, assessment teams have a representative from each of three areas of CVT’s work: clinical, program evaluation and organizational management. No one in the organization conducts assessments full time, which means that team members are recruited when the need or opportunity arises, and based on availability and skill sets. As the organizational development advisor, I represent the organizational management function. Additionally, I was part of the team to Ecuador because I speak Spanish, and I was part of the team to Beirut because I happened to be in the country working with a CVT partner in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli at the time the opportunity arose.

While team members’ focus areas are specific, they also overlap. We ask the people we meet with – and each other – many questions. Questions like: Is there a need for our specialized services here? Are there collaboration opportunities? Will the regulatory environment allow us to register and operate in the country? Is the communications infrastructure sufficient for our needs? Is the security situation a reasonable risk for the organization? Is now the right time for our intervention?

My photos from Nigeria are chiefly from the passenger seat of a car, because we were either in meetings or in transit to meetings. Due to extreme security issues in the northeast of Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been active, we met representatives of organizations in the capital of Abuja. During the evenings we met over dinner as a team to discuss our respective and collective findings and to keep arranging meetings for the balance of our time there.

When we’re lucky, we are able to meet up with friends or friends of friends while on assessments. Sometimes that means a personal tour of a local attraction, a walk about the city, or a chat about life over a good meal. In Abuja, we shared a glass of wine at the hotel with my Nigerian-American friend’s connection who had visited Minnesota last year through the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) hosted by the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. Later in the week we had coffee with a woman who worked at Amnesty International in the past, a former colleague of CVT’s executive and deputy directors, who happened to be in Nigeria at the same time. Both women offered a different perspective for our time there, not to mention a refreshing reprieve from heavy content.

Ultimately, we decided to use the assessment in Nigeria to inform future potential work. Pursuing a funding opportunity is about responsible consideration of the current reality, opportunities and risks. There is a great deal of interest in CVT’s expertise in serving Nigerian communities that have experienced profound traumatic events. There is also impressive capacity among Nigerian organizations and agencies. Our time there, while brief, allowed us to build a fledgling network, develop our competence about the situation, and identify possible ways to move forward. At CVT, the assessment is the humbling, inspiring and necessary step before any new endeavor.

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