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Notes from the Ground

CVT Kalobeyei: From Bare Ground to a Successful Program

Published March 10, 2020
Kalobeyei Facility

“When we started, there was nothing here,” said Samuel Orangi, field coordinator, CVT Kakuma, “only bare ground and high, dusty winds.” Today, all that has changed. The team built its offices in the Kakuma, Kenya refugee camp and its healing center in the Kalobeyei settlement step by step, building by building, and already has been extending care to clients for two years. And expansion into an additional Kalobeyei settlement is well underway. This will give the clinical team two complete centers to run full programs in mental health care and physiotherapy for survivors of torture. Clients say this care has changed their lives.

The demand grows as refugees from South Sudan and the Great Lakes region continue to arrive seeking safety. As word spreads about the rehabilitative care CVT provides, people find the center. Clients begin to rebuild their lives as they work through the 10-week counseling and physio sessions, and many want others to find this kind of help as well. “In the community, I tell them the CVT office is here in the camp – I tell them to come and see about CVT’s work,” said a young Congolese man who is a former client. “I’m very sure many have challenges similar to what I experienced but don’t know how to cope. I send them to CVT so they get the same services I received.”

The Kakuma refugee camp, which was established in 1992 following the arrival of the Lost Boys of Sudan, is located about 25 km from the three Kalobeyei settlement villages. CVT set up its offices and staff housing in Kakuma in order to have access to NGO partners and services as well as proximity to basic things like utilities, water and food. Today, CVT Kakuma has offices built inside modified shipping containers that even have air conditioning and WiFi.

The Kalobeyei settlement is much newer, opening officially in 2016 and launching a multi-agency approach to build self-reliance, the local economy and service delivery. It was established when the influx of refugees from South Sudan pushed the capacity of the Kakuma camp far beyond its limits. In the 100-degree heat, traveling from village to village or all the way to Kakuma is a daunting challenge, so determining where to locate rehabilitative care is a strategic decision. As survivors of torture, many clients have injuries, pain or mobility issues. After escaping violence, war atrocities and traumatic events, many clients tell us they could not bear to leave their homes after they arrived in their new place of refuge. Being around other people is overwhelming. Heading out to find a distant center is not a priority for many.

To help facilitate access for clients with these unique needs, CVT set up its center in Kalobeyei’s Village 1. Two tukuls are used for counseling sessions because their circular shape is welcoming, accessible and private for clients sharing in group sessions. There is also a stone-walled building with a large rectangular room conducive to physio sessions, along with rooms for smaller groups and individual counseling. There is also a space for cooking meals and making tea during the long days. A waiting station provides shady seating for clients who come early for sessions or, as often happens, stay afterward to talk with other members of their groups.

With the success of CVT’s work, expansion is necessary. A new location in Village 3 has construction well underway, with fence posts and foundations already being set in February 2020. This second location will replicate the first: two tukuls plus a larger space for physio sessions. As digging commences, stones and bricks are laid, and materials are delivered, the community is interested in the new development as it will drastically reduce the walking distance for those in Villages 2 and 3 – they will be able to access the services with ease. The new site is strategically situated right in the community neighborhood where the people reside. The construction has had the approval of the community, who feel it belongs to them – it has come here to support and address one of the key service needs that they really require. This is assisting in raising awareness in the community on what CVT does, and as a result the security of the center is being take care of by the community. As the workers make progress at the job site, many children stop by to watch the work and the new buildings come to life.

“Two years ago, you never would have thought all this could be here,” said Orangi. The terrain is flat and the high winds kick up dust storms that whirl into mini-tornados. “It will take time for the trees to grow,” he added. But in time, this new center will offer green shade to clients just as the current center does today.

“Two years ago, CVT’s center here was just an idea. The idea started off with nothing in place, nothing we could call our own (no building, no electricity supply, no water in the vicinity, etc.)  – we set up in someone else’s building to get our activities started. There was no internet. We had to build relationships here and set up services,” said Joseph Wesonga, physiotherapy trainer. “Now we have made it. We started from nothing, but it’s all happening now. The program has taken root and the impact can be felt in the community. Indeed, we’ve left a mark on the community.”

Clients agree. “This work is very important for all people, not me alone,” said a former client, a woman from South Sudan. She said that after all she had been through: violence in her home country, deep loss, flight and then settling into the hardships and extreme climate of the settlement, that CVT gave her hope to concentrate on her future.

She said, “Keep doing this work. It’s very important for the lives of people.”

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