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Staff Insights

Helping Survivors Realize All They Can Do for Themselves

Published July 9, 2018

Habiba Mohamed, psychosocial counselor, CVT Nairobi

I remember a young woman who came to the center for help; she came to me very sick. I looked at her and I felt really distressed. She was emaciated, sickly. She really touched my heart. We sat down to do an intake interview with an interpreter. However, when I asked about trauma and pain, she started crying. She had lived through war and left home. The story was too much for her to tell me – she could not go on; she couldn’t do the intake.

In my work with survivors of torture, at first clients tell me the very dark stories about their past, but after counseling, they tell me about their hope and happiness. Every client makes an impression on me. In many cases, my work helps clients move away from their experience of torture and begin to reconnect with the resources they have inside. They begin to help themselves to move ahead with their lives.

With this client, I could see from that first meeting that she needed to move forward at her own pace. I stopped the interview, and we did another appointment the next day. When she came the following day, I felt that she was brighter and not as weak as the day before. She had been through a lot. Most of our clients have lived through a lot of torture, very bad torture and rape.

She told me men (warriors) came to her village early in the morning. They were torching houses, killing people haphazardly, and getting ladies and girls into captivity, my client being one of them. They were gang raped. When she refused, she was tortured on every part of her body. She eventually came to Kenya alone. All her family was gone; her husband together with her family had been killed. However, even with such grief, the worst thing for her was when she found out she was HIV positive. She wanted to kill herself.

As she began the healing process with CVT, she was also reunited with her children – that was her happiest moment. Before coming for care, she just wanted to die. She said “I’m not going to survive.” But she went through the counseling cycle, and at her three-month follow up session with CVT, she said now she has hope. She is not as frail; she’s smartly dressed, taking good care of herself and at her 12-month follow up session, she said she has started doing business.

I began working at CVT Nairobi in 2013, and before that I was a nurse by profession. I worked in a government hospital and then went to Dadaab refugee camp where I worked with the government and later joined a non-governmental organization known as GTZ. I was there for five years and then transferred to Nairobi. I continued working with GTZ, coordinating activities in Dadaab and Kakuma camps.

I learned about CVT at this time, and I met CVT staff – they were doing outreach to help potential clients learn about the rehabilitative care CVT was offering. I knew that many of the clients I worked with had been tortured; many had been victims of gender-based violence (GBV). When I saw that clients had been tortured, I knew they needed counseling so I referred them to CVT.

I saw a notice about a position at CVT, so I asked myself do I want to go into counseling? At this time, another organization offered me a position, so I wasn’t sure. Part of me wanted to try something new, but my background is medical. Both opportunities called to me – I had to pray about it.

I felt like trying new things. I had read about torture – I felt like if I made this change, I could help people. This was very motivating for me – I like helping people. I knew with my background caring for people who survived GBV, I could understand people who had been tortured and all they went through.

So I moved to CVT, and last year I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Counseling Psychology. In my role as a counselor, I do group and individual counseling along with the new Parenting group. I enjoy working with this new program – from the first intake interview we ask people about violence and about their children. Clients tell us what is going on – they get annoyed at the children and beat them or shout at them. The parents tell us they want to stop.

The Parenting program is impacting positively on parents, thus helping them take good care of their children, i.e. they stop beating and shouting at them and instead apply the skills they learn, such as good  communication, problem solving skills, etc.

At CVT, we know torture has profound long term effects, so we are doing something. We give clients a lot of hope. We give them the skills to take care of themselves; they practice these skills, and then they go on with their lives. We show them that they can’t heal in one day, but with time, they will see improvements. We give hope that what they are doing is not lost.

Clients are very appreciative of CVT – they tell me that CVT welcomed them, and it is here where they find their second home. When we call them for follow-up visits, they will show up outside very early. So many times they say their relationships are building, and they have started working or started a business. One woman who was not even able to speak to people when she arrived at CVT said “Now I’m healed. I can move on with my life. I have started selling second hand clothes. Before, people used to call me a witch.” She said they called her this because she would always lock herself in the house and would not relate with people.

Every day of the week, this work gives me a lot to reflect on: people have so much resilience. People can survive a lot of things and remain so strong. I believe that with God everything is possible.

I have hope that CVT will continue doing this good work to help people heal from torture and stop torture all over the world.

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

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