Meet Kalo and Job, CVT Counselors

Kalo Sokoto and Job Onyango are counselors with CVT Nairobi. Before CVT, Job worked at the Kenyan torture survivor center IMLU – Independent Medico-Legal Unit, supervising volunteer counselors who provided care to Kenyan torture survivors. Kalo is a counseling supervisor. She has worked with UNHCR in Khartoum where she was counseling and assessing the urban Congolese Refugees. She also worked with other nongovernmental organizations who worked with street boys and children in slums who experienced trauma.

What is your job with CVT?

Job:  My role is to create awareness about CVT’s services within the community and to conduct community meetings and sensitizations, so people understand how torture and conflict affect the people in their community and are more sensitive to survivors.

Kalo: Like Job, I do trainings to raise awareness about what torture is, what CVT does and how psychotherapy can help people who survived torture and war. We provide therapy in groups and to individuals. We make an effort to understand the living situations of the people we’re providing counseling. In addition to that, as a supervisor I shadow the psychotherapist in some groups in order to gain supervision skills, help in organizing trainings, attend meetings with other organizations and assist the psychotherapist/trainer where needed.

What is a typical day like for you?

Job: Monday through Thursday we’re in the field office in a neighborhood where many refugees live. We arrive around 8 AM and by 9 AM we’re meeting with potential clients, conducting assessments by appointment.  Some days we’ll have group counselling sessions in the morning and individual counseling in the afternoon. On other days, we’ll do home visits. Many survivors want us to meet their family members, especially the women. It is important for their husbands to meet us and understand our work. Later, we’ll do assessments so we can understand what is happening in their home, like do they have enough food? Fridays we are in the office together to meet as a team, review cases and assessment, debrief as a team and catch up on paperwork.

Kalo: Aside from the usual schedule of field work and Friday office day, a lot of our time goes into preparing for our client sessions. Sometimes you prepare your schedule for a counseling session based on the CVT group counseling manual, only to come to the session and realize the clients might need something slightly different. We’re allowed to go outside the structure if it will benefit the clients therefore that requires extra work. The training and supervision we have makes it clear that the survivor is the priority. I like that because it’s a constant reminder of why CVT exists.

What is challenging about your work?

Job: Many of our clients do not have a mandate from the UN refugee agency in Kenya, meaning they don’t have official refugee status. That makes it difficult for them to get access to food support and medical care. So frequently we’re making referrals to other organizations. We also see survivors who are most in need. We provide mental health care and physical therapy, but there are so many needs for work, housing, food and medical care.

Kalo: Refugees are a vulnerable population and unfortunately this makes them an easy target. An incident like the Westgate attack traumatized a number of our clients. This is something no one can protect them from. They are also an easy target for the government because they don’t have a voice to defend themselves; after all they are seeking refuge. The most recent directive for the evacuation of Urban Refugees to Kakuma and Dadaab is an example. As of now, most refugees are overwhelmed by fear!

What is rewarding about your work?

Job: The transformation we see in people – seeing them get back their dignity. The first women’s group we met with, we were following our 10-week group session structure. Around the third session, the group was still very low, extremely low and we realized we couldn’t follow the typical structure. Before the session, the women couldn’t even say their names, they cried during the whole session. Two women feinted early in the sessions – emotionally induced feinting; they were so overcome with emotion.

So we broke with the structure and explained what happens to the brain and the body when exposed to trauma, and why there were having these reactions. We talked about how we can self-regulate through breathing, exercises, taking a break for a cup of tea, or stepping outside. Once they understood that and learned what they could do to regulate themselves, they were able to talk and share their experiences with one another without crying. They could talk about very painful things but they didn’t cry uncontrollably.

Kalo:  This work is an introduction to another world; A world so real yet so hidden to most of us. Refugees are a forgotten people. The opportunity to remind them that they are human is priceless.  Seeing a client feel cared for and listened to is worth my time. As much as I am the counselor, I have learned something from all my clients which I apply in my day to day life. I find this work quite rewarding because what CVT does is meeting a direct need.

What do you do to maintain hope for yourself?

Job: Personally, I take time and I don’t carry my work home with me. I take care of myself.  I also go out of my way to talk about nonviolence. After the December 2007 elections in Kenya, there was violence and I have a book with graphic photos from that period. I show that book to everyone. After the last election in 2013, I took that book to everyone and said, what happened in 2007 and 2008 could be the tip of what could happen. I’m opposed to anything violent, anything that creates conflict.

Kalo: I talk with my colleagues and with family and friends. I find ways to make sure the difficult stories we hear do not stay within me. The work has given me a paradigm shift. It is so tangible in my life. Refugees are not just people in the Breaking News; they are in my life. It’s made me more conscious and aware of how I speak about people; interact with people, the words I use. I have become a refugee activist in many ways!

Read Kalo’s blog post, Rape is “Normal,” on CVT’s blog Healing & Human Rights.

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