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Notes from the Ground

Aftercare – Ongoing Support for the LGBTI Refugee Community at CVT Nairobi

Published June 5, 2018

From left, Joanne Jepkemoi Kibet, physiotherapist/trainer; Rosina Mruttu, psychotherapist/trainer; and Elizabeth Mbatha Muli, psychotherapist/trainer, CVT Nairobi.

“CVT said we’re important in the world,” Beth said. “Think positive.”

Beth* is a former client who went through CVT Nairobi’s 10-week counseling cycle especially developed for LGBTI survivors of torture. Today she is one of the refugee peer facilitators of CVT’s innovative new LGBTI Aftercare program, which invites former clients back to CVT for ongoing consultation and support.

Many refugees in Nairobi who are members of the LGBTI community fled their home countries because of persecution and violence specifically targeting them. In some countries near Kenya, it is illegal to be gay. The consequences are devastating and often brutal. Once people escape to Nairobi, they may find relative safety, but they can still face harassment, barriers and challenges in addition to those they face as refugees.

CVT said we’re important in the world.”

Beth, CVT peer facilitator

For this group of survivors, CVT Nairobi has become known as a place where they will find help and care. And because of the success of CVT’s LGBTI groups, the counselors heard feedback that indicated that continuing support was needed. Over the course of more than a year, they developed an Aftercare program to meet the ongoing needs of this community. Elizabeth Mbatha Muli, psychotherapist/trainer, said “The objective was to provide more social connections and focus on enhancing coping skills. We knew from the follow-up sessions with our former clients that when groups ended, clients felt isolated, not able to cope with continuous pressures.”

Joanne Jepkemoi Kibet, physiotherapist/trainer, noted, “These clients first came to CVT two years ago – so they’re coming back to CVT processes. This program gives them more therapeutic space as well as a safe space to process their experiences.”

The Aftercare program runs for six weeks and takes participants through an initial session on safety and education about continuous trauma, to set the stage for the conversations to follow. The next sessions then allow the group to focus on a number of topics in greater depth, including important coping skills, ways to enhance social connections, ways to identify and think about shame and identity, as well as sharing information about services. Elizabeth said, “We give them a forum to talk about feelings and learn from each other how they’re doing, to hear what others are doing about their problems.”

The program is designed to create stronger community and reinforce skills, but there are additional benefits. Rosina Mruttu, psychotherapist/trainer, said, “This program is important for providing motivation. Clients see others in the group who are free, who are going out into the community, able to earn. This helps them be motivated to go out themselves and see if there is something they can do to earn a living instead of depending totally on agencies’ support.”

The Support of Peer Facilitators

Another key component of the Aftercare program is the work of peer facilitators, former clients who are members of the LGBTI refugee community. While developing the new Aftercare curriculum, clinicians realized the benefit of having peers helping peers when dealing with ongoing challenges. As Beth, one of the peer facilitators, said, “For us, as fellow refugees, we motivate the clients. We help them look further. We tell our stories. We say you can change – you can work on your stress and learn to think positively about yourself.”

The peer facilitators were quick to agree that the need for ongoing consultation was high for this group of former clients. “Once they’ve been through counseling, they say, now we are done, what now? As LGBTI, we still are facing discrimination,” said Francis*, another peer facilitator who recently completed his work on an Aftercare cycle. “We give them the opportunity to see things differently from the way they see it. We help them get back on their feet.”

We give them the opportunity to see things differently from the way they see it. We help them get back on their feet.”

Francis, CVT peer facilitator

The peer facilitators face similar circumstances, so they are uniquely qualified to help. Beth said, “In this role we help others in the community. We know how to come about challenges – being a refugee is not a walkover. These are our fellow refugees.”

The peer facilitators understand participants’ perspective on their daily lives. “When you come to Kenya, you find it’s very different from what you expected,” Francis said. “You ask how do I fit in? How will I find a job?”

Joanne agrees. Clients were forced into life as refugees, and she said that for some, expectations of what their lives would be like in Kenya were too high. They didn’t expect the difficulties they have found taking care of everyday needs. So the Aftercare program has been very helpful in making referrals and connections. Joanne said, “This has enabled us to connect with other agencies who serve these clients, too. It’s now easier to make referrals to a number of agencies, community based organizations, NGOs and other partners.”

The clinicians provided training and support to the new peer facilitators, working closely with them to get ready for the first cycle of sessions. It was daunting to make the transition from client to facilitator. “I was so nervous at first,” Francis said. “As a facilitator, I face the same guys I walk around with every day. I felt I might get stuck.” But Francis said that the CVT counselors provided the support he needed. “I was able to manage it with their help.”

The first cycle was successful, with the completion of two groups of 10 people each. Elizabeth noted the program was well received. “The clients wanted it to be longer,” she said. “Clients reported that they feel like they are welcome, that they’re accepted as human beings.

The community responded positively. Timothy*, another of the peer facilitators, said, “Participants ask to be in another session – they don’t want it to end. And now they refer their friends.”

And the benefits for peer facilitators reach beyond simply getting employment and earning some money: the work provides good experience and a way to help others. Timothy said, “I love the job. I was interested before in social work. Now as a peer facilitator, I mobilize the community to join CVT. I look for people who need service.”

Timothy said, “Now I feel like I did this. This is what I did to try to help.”

I feel like even when I’m resettled, that I’m supposed to continue this work. This is the best work I’ve done, the best place I’ve been. I want to find a way to help others in some way.”

Timothy, CVT peer facilitator

Francis said, “As a peer facilitator I’m getting experience and responsibilities. Now my mind is growing, and I’m enjoying challenging work. I’m preparing for a future.”

Timothy said he feels much more hope about his work prospects since he came to CVT. He said, “I feel like even when I’m resettled, that I’m supposed to continue this work. This is the best work I’ve done, the best place I’ve been. I want to find a way to help others in some way.”

“I wish I’d found CVT earlier,” Timothy said.

*Names and some details have been changed for confidentiality and security.

CVT’s work in Nairobi is made possible by Steven Walker and supported by funding from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; the S.L. Gimbel Advised Fund at The Community Foundation – Inland Southern California.

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