Meet CVT Counselors Arthur & Habiba
Habiba Mohammed Huka and Arthur Ndirangu Muriuki are psychosocial counselors with CVT Nairobi. They joined CVT to bring hope to refugees who fled torture and violent conflicts in their home countries.
What is your job with CVT?
Arthur: Habiba and I work at CVT’s counseling site in the Kassarani neighborhood, a very impoverished neighborhood in east Nairobi. We recently completed our first group counseling cycle with women survivors of torture.
Habiba: As counselors, we’re listening to torture victims and what they’ve gone through. When they first come to CVT, often they can’t even look at us, they’re crying inconsolably. We give them hope through counseling, show them that they’re human beings and their life is really important. The way we work with them, they really appreciate it.
Arthur: This is the first time I’ve worked with people who experienced torture and war violence. During our first group, one client experienced a flashback. The client screamed and was terrified. When that happened, it struck me that it only takes a very small trigger and our clients are emotionally and psychologically right back there. So during counseling, I ask myself, am I covering all the right angles?
What changes have you seen in the survivors you work with?
Habiba: We provided care to one woman whose entire family was killed. Some people were afraid of her because she walked around with a completely blank stare. They wondered, is she going to kill me? The sight of children would cause her tremendous pain and she couldn’t go to church because it was something she used to do with her husband. But after the 8th week of counseling, she was smiling, she started holding the children of the other women, and began going to church.
Arthur: At our June 26 celebration a group of our clients performed on stage. It was amazing to see them singing and dancing. Another time, as our group counseling sessions neared the end, I asked a man, If today was the last session, how would you leave? He smiled for five minutes and I asked him what his smile meant. He told us, “I am at a loss for words. You were dedicated to my well-being. You listened to me, you cared for me, you fed me and gave me tea. You played with my children and asked about my family.”
Why is providing mental health care for survivors important?
Habiba: It’s hard to imagine the horrific things human beings do to other human beings. We have many survivors from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the torture happening there is terrible, especially the sexual violence against everyone – men, women and children. One of the things we do is give value to survivors. It heals their wounds. When they start counseling, their heart is dark. But after our 8th session, they will draw a clear heart. Most of them never thought they’d feel better. We give them hope and it makes me feel so good that we can make that change in someone’s life.
Arthur: This work is crucial. There is nothing more rewarding than meeting individuals on the verge of giving up – some have family members who committed suicide – then you see them make small changes. They’re grooming themselves better, they’re smiling. They see you are not going to judge them and then they commit themselves to getting better. It’s amazing. I’m also more sensitive about refugees as people. If war broke out in Kenya, I could be a refugee too.
How do you maintain hope for yourself?
Habiba: There are small things I do for myself, like breathing exercises and I talk to Ilya [Yacevich, psychotherapist/trainer with CVT Nairobi]. I know when to take a break when it’s too much. My faith teaches me: when you help, God will help too. I believe that. I’ve also seen the transformation we’ve made in people’s lives. To see people singing and dancing on June 26, I never knew this work could change people like that and it gives me hope.
Arthur: I talk with my colleagues at CVT and I have a very good professor I consult with [Arthur is completing his master’s degree in counseling psychology]. I also bought a guitar and I’m learning to play. I go up to the country to visit my grandmother – she’s hilarious. She can’t understand what I do and how I get paid to talk to people! But the work is very rewarding. Even working with interpreters, you can’t help but make a connection with the other human being and I’ve had some amazing moments.
Habiba: CVT gives hope to heal the world – a world without torture.
CVT’s work in Nairobi is made possible with a gift from the United States Government