Meet Stephen, CVT Physical Therapist

The effects of torture and war experiences can leave deep scars on a person’s psyche and lasting physical pain. Physical torture frequently results in enduring muskuloskeletal injuries. Sometimes the fear of brutal violence never leaves a person, making it difficult for them to regulate their bodies.

At our healing initiatives in Jordan, Nairobi, Kenya, and our healing center in St. Paul, MN, CVT provides physical therapy in close consultation with the counselors who provide mental health care.  Stephen Angwata, a physical therapist with CVT’s healing initiative in Nairobi, describes his work.

Stephen Angwata, Physical Therapist with the Center for Victims of Torture in NairobiWhat is your job with CVT?
Jennifer [Chepkemoi, physical therapist], Jepkemoi [Kibet, physical therapist and trainer] and I work closely with the counselors, who do the initial assessment when survivors seek our services. If they complain of physical pain, muscular skeletal pain, we do an assessment for physical therapy. Afterwards, we analyze the results and discuss how to manage their symptoms. Our treatment includes deep tissue massage, exercises, dry heat therapy and posture management both at home and where they work. We talk with survivors about their personal care so they can avoid reinjuring themselves and aggravating pain as they go through treatment.

What is a typical day like?
We leave the office around 8:00 AM to drive to one of our satellite offices in a Nairobi neighborhood where many refugee survivors live. We arrive around 9:00 AM due to the traffic and distance. We prepare our materials and then we begin seeing individual clients. When they come for their appointment, we’ll talk to them first: Are they improving? Is the pain getting worse? Most of our clients come with chronic pain and injuries as a result of physical torture. We also see survivors who have medical conditions that have gone untreated for years so we’ll refer them for medical care. We emphasize self-care so our clients can continue to do the exercises they’re learning even after their treatment is done. We’ll see 20 to 24 clients a day.

What is challenging about your job?
The refugees we see in Nairobi have so many unmet needs. They have no money so they often can’t pay rent or pay medical fees since many of them have medical conditions that can’t be healed with physical therapy alone. It is very difficult to hear about their needs and not have the resources to assist them. There are just so many needs. Also, the job is physically demanding and you have to be strong emotionally because they tell us very touching stories.

Why is your work important?
We have a population of torture and war survivors that is really neglected. Many of them have fled war and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and they have no other agencies in Nairobi to turn to. They don’t qualify as refugees in many cases, so they can’t get any assistance. But CVT will see them and often our referrals to other agencies will get them some assistance that they were denied before.

What is rewarding about your job?
What’s rewarding is providing physical therapy along with the counseling that survivors are receiving and it’s really showing positive results. Our clients are very encouraging. Their feedback is all positive. Previously, I worked for a nongovernmental organization in Dadaab, Kenya that provided physical therapy to refugees but not psychosocial support. You would hear emotionally draining stories. Because other nongovernmental agencies working there operated differently, it was difficult to know if they received counseling after you made a referral. As much as you can manage the physical pain, you can’t manage the psychological pain. So working in collaboration with the counselors, providing the mental health and physical therapy together, has been very good for clients and I’ve learned a lot about working with torture survivors.

The team work is really helping. The counselors provide a lot of support, especially understanding how hearing these stories can affect us personally. I really support the way our work is set up with the collaboration of physical therapists and counselors and seeing our clients come back to life physically and emotionally.

CVT’s work in Nairobi is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration - See more at:

CVT’s work in Nairobi is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.


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