Logo for the Center for Victims of Torture
Notes from the Ground

Bringing Specialized Healing at CVT Ethiopia, Even During Difficult Times

Published November 30, 2022
Ethiopia march.

By Firew Kefyalew Mekonnen, country director, CVT Ethiopia

Read more here about the 10-year anniversary of CVT Ethiopia.

As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary in CVT Ethiopia, I want to give credit to our staff. Our colleagues. My heroes. I have worked almost two years as country director for CVT Ethiopia, during a tense period in our country’s history. During this time, I have seen the extraordinary work, care and innovation that the team brings to their roles every day. I am proud of our colleagues, and I am proud that CVT Ethiopia has continued functioning so well, and so effectively, while active war is going on.

As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary in CVT Ethiopia, I want to give credit to our staff. Our colleagues. My heroes.”

During these past two years, CVT Ethiopia has been able to continue serving people and maintaining our level of excellence while our resources are limited and the environment is not conducive to providing clinical care. Other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are doing emergency support, providing food, shelter and immediately needed items, but our service is different from others. We extend care for people who have survived torture and deep trauma. We help people overcome extremely difficult situations and begin to reconnect with communities and to rebuild their lives. Mental health is an important part of emergency response and long-term healing for communities. The need for our services continues to grow.

In my time with CVT, I have seen much. I’ve seen the challenges; I’ve seen the level of expertise that the team has developed and strengthened over these 10 years. I’ve seen the way the staff have been able to adapt quickly to changing contexts and environments and find ways to help people who have experienced traumatic situations. My colleagues are resilient: living and working in an area where there is active conflict requires commitment and high level of professionalism. And they continue to move forward and bring care to those in need.

Many organizations in Tigray had to downsize or drop out because of challenges – the level of resources, management structure, changed environment, all contributed to those decisions. We didn’t have that at CVT Ethiopia. Instead, we have created a system in project management that can function even when things are chaotic, whether we have working communications or not with the head office.

In fact, even with very limited communication in Tigray, we have been able to get official support, manage operations and provide care. We have a system among counselors for doing clinical supervision, which covers 18 people on the staff. Clinical supervision is set up so that counselors who work with trauma have time with a supervisor to discuss cases, interventions and treatment plans. They also talk about how they are coping with the difficult cases themselves and taking care of the traumatic impacts the work has on them. These supervisors in turn have these sessions with their clinical supervisors. Even with such limited communications, we have been able to do that and the program is going smoothly.

In response to the crisis, we have enabled the system to run on autonomous mode. As an example, we needed to hire new people, so I said, Let’s go and do recruitment adhering to internal procedures; we have the support from headquarters. The support allows flexibility, and the team’s innovative thinking helps us adapt. This has allowed me to do what I think is right. We have been flexible, and we are good at thinking through risks and benefits.

During this time, we have established a new healing center in Shire. Prior to the conflict breaking out in late 2020, the clinical staff had been spending 95 percent of their time out of Mai Tsebri, caring for Eritrean refugees in two camps there. After the conflict began, we maintained work there, but then there were huge numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs), so we moved to support them in Shire.

As the conflict continued, space was limited and we were not set up to extend care to large numbers of IDPs there. Then we earned a grant from the U.S. Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) that allowed us to transform our Shire operation. We moved into a whole building, four floors. We doubled our staff from 40 people to 83, and shifted our operation base to Shire.

Today we still have a presence in Mai Tsebri where we have used a mobile team since the COVID pandemic came. And in Shire we have a full healing and training center, offering mental health services, physiotherapy and interdisciplinary care.

And now we are expanding into Amhara, where we are opening a center in the refugee site in Dabat. We’re currently setting up the operation, which includes a team of counselors, counseling supervisors, psychosocial counselors and physiotherapists to provide direct care to survivors.

As a professional, this has been a challenging time for me, and it’s also fulfilling. With each challenge, the reward is more fulfilling. CVT is the only organization doing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in a scientific manner. We specialize in that and it makes a difference, for healing and for our reputation and ability to expand our work, reach more people for care, and hire talented people.

I also hope for CVT to find a way to mainstream peacebuilding in the trauma healing work we do. Our excellence at healing will bring peacebuilding, and it is important.”

To be able to provide that in this difficult time is rewarding. And it’s meaningful because I’m Ethiopian. I’m contributing to the just cause of healing. It’s difficult and challenging to assume such a role in present day Ethiopia because there are so many constraints. But for me it’s immensely fulfilling because I live my values as a professional. And I want my organization to live its values, with the value of being impartial.

The current conflict in Ethiopia has caused immense destruction. The amount of trauma that is being experienced by people is deep and wide. Organizations like CVT have to play a critical role, but we cannot do that by ourselves. We must look at other modalities, partnerships. We have to reach more affected souls, traumatized souls. I see the damage that has been done to all who are impacted. It will take a long time to heal. And I know that the capacity of local community institutions to catalyze the healing process is limited. That is where CVT can help in addition.

I hope the recently signed Cessation of Hostilities Agreement will hold, bringing an end to the conflict. We need to focus on mental health. The damage that has been caused is not just physical; it is in the minds of people, hence transgenerational.

I also hope for CVT to find a way to mainstream peacebuilding in the trauma healing work we do. Our excellence at healing will bring peacebuilding, and it is important. The healing process brings healing to minds; it brings peace to minds. And so, we can bring peace to the country. We need to be intentional about it.

Share this Article

Related Articles