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Expert Voices

Helping Women Reconnect to their Bodies After Torture

Published March 7, 2017

Jepkemoi Kibet is a physiotherapist/trainer, CVT Nairobi.

Some topics are not easily discussed. Experiencing shame, some of the women I work with in Kenya suffer in silence for a long time before they can feel confident to talk about the torture they survived. Many have sustained injuries to the pelvic region as a result of rape. Cultural issues and social stigma often silence the victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and keep them from asking for the help they need. This is where they meet me along their journey of recovery.

I work as a physiotherapist at CVT Nairobi overseeing physiotherapy services for refugees/asylum seekers who are survivors of torture in Kenya. Even as a young woman, I wanted to help people get back to their normal lives especially after injuries, to regain their ability to perform activities of daily living with ease. More than 10 years ago it was not easy for me to access physiotherapy higher education in Kenya (this has changed!); therefore I had to go to South Africa where I did a Master’s degree and am currently pursuing a Ph.D.

The need to help other people gain their independence after an injury is what drove me to physiotherapy. For example, if someone is a breadwinner and they are injured, the family suffers until they get well enough to be able to return to work, and among the people – doctors, nurses and other medical personnel — to help this person get back to work soonest is a physiotherapist. Helping people recover their strength in turn strengthens the surrounding community.

At CVT, we help the brave women who seek to rebuild their lives, helping them to learn exercises that strengthen their pelvic muscles, therefore reducing their problems.  CVT provides them with a safe environment where they can share and they are treated with dignity. Injuries to their pelvic regions cause some of them to have incontinence.  Most of these women cannot afford the basics e.g. the sanitary towels/ diapers, etc. This causes them to stay indoors and not mingle with people because they feel ashamed to walk out with dripping urine. Like I said, this is a topic that is not easily discussed. But we help them heal.

When we receive clients in our CVT clinic who have pain, it is exciting to see them improve and regain their ability to perform activities of daily living with ease. We are helping clients connect with their bodies.

That is what is most awesome about CVT: people reconnecting with their bodies. I’ve heard others say we put the soul back into the body.  That is why I was drawn to a career in physical therapy.

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