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Notes from the Ground

"Hope brings strength and moves mountains"

Published August 4, 2023
The back of a shirt reads Support Life After Torture, June 26, and to the left a group of community members are seen sitting outside

CVT Tigray centers the survivor community in events for June 26 commemoration

Despite the challenging working conditions and restricted resources, CVT’s Tigray program has grown significantly over the past few years. The program has been intentional about shifting to be survivor-focused and interdisciplinary by integrating physiotherapy, social work, psychiatry and mental health counseling services into its scope of practice.

The role of the Tigray team

The Tigray team members and the leadership, many of whom are considered veterans at CVT, have shown composure, commitment and professionalism through their responses to emergency. They have been exposed to horrors of the recent violent conflict and confronted with life-threatening experiences, but still demonstrated tremendous resilience throughout these challenging times. Compassion, teamwork, care and understanding of one another is their strong support system, leading the team to exit these trying situations even stronger.

Because the conflict in the region has inflicted so much suffering, the communities have endured severe trauma. As the result, the need for mental health and physiotherapy services has remained immense, requiring substantial resources and trained professionals. In order to address these needs, the program has hired professionals with extensive experience in trauma-informed approaches.

They’ve also expanded its services for the gravely-affected populations in Aksum, Sheraro, Selekleka and Hitsats through mobile units, with the operation base of the centralized healing and training center in Shire town.

How CVT and June 26 intersect

Commemoration of internationally recognized days with focus on mental health and human rights is a key component of CVT activities to raise awareness in the community. The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is a United Nations observance held on June 26, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1997.

In the aftermath of the conflict, the CVT-Tigray team commemorated the event in Shire and all mobile units locations with different activities to show solidarity to survivors of torture and to call upon all stakeholders to unite in bringing an end to the atrocities.  

Reinforcing positivity through discussion

The conflicts and displacements have broken the social fabrics and affected community support.

In order to bring communities together and reinforce positive interactions for the commemoration of June 26, the team conducted coffee corner discussions in seven internally displaced persons (IDP) sites in Shire and in mobile locations, and an outdoor community event in the main square of the Shire town. The event was preceded by a master of ceremony introducing CVT and our services with loud speakers with an invitation for the community to gather during the event.

The event included distribution of printed t-shirts as well as brochures with the impacts of torture, coping mechanisms, and available CVT services translated into Tigrigna. Banners were hung, and Q&As and competitive fun activities were organized.

In Shire, the team invited UN agencies, INGOs, government counterparts, religious leaders, and representatives of the IDP and host communities into a panel discussion with the theme: “Hope brings strength and moves mountains”.

Yohannes Fisseha, a training manager at CVT-Tigray, welcomed the participants and read the message of solidarity from CVT’s CEO and president, Dr. Simon Adams. Medhanye Alem, a psychotherapist/trainer at the CVT-Tigray program, gave  background on the international day, discussing why commemorating the event is so important. He also talked about the organization’s longstanding commitment to supporting survivors and the global advocacy efforts to stop torture worldwide.

A look into the connection between trauma and the body

Girmalew Teklu, the current CVT-Tigray zonal manager, conveyed a welcome note and introduced the day to the crowd, and Frezgi Gebrekristos, an associate psychotherapist/trainer read Simon’s message and led the activities with the support from the team.

“As trauma is stored in the body, exercises can help us improve our mental health by reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression,” Kiflom Negash, associate physiotherapist/trainer, said while educating the community on benefits of doing regular aerobic exercises.

“It increases the functional capacity of the cardio-respiratory system (the heart, lungs and blood vessels), reduces risks of chronic diseases, and normalizes the function of all our body systems and the overall well-being.”

The physiotherapy team engaged the audience in physical exercises at moderate levels of intensity at their own paces, which intends to improve the respiratory system. The exercise was followed by stretching and some relaxation sessions.


Bereket Tadesse, child protection officer at UNICEF, shared his previous experience with CVT as an associate psychotherapist/trainer and later zonal manager. He talked about the devastating impacts of torture and how the trauma counseling sessions helped in reconstructing a positive meaning in the lives of survivors. 

The participants discussed the role of government, UN agencies, other humanitarian actors and affected communities in supporting survivors, preserving their human dignity, and bringing an end to the practice of torture. Elizabeth Muthama, child protection specialist/coordinator at UNICEF, said, “I know CVT from Kenya and the incredible work you do in the rehabilitation of survivors of torture. No one provides the specialized care CVT does.”

As the events of the day concluded, the laughter, huge rounds of applause, and the active engagement of the community showed a glimpse of hope for recovery.

Funding provided by Bureau of Populations for Refugees and Migrants (BPRM), Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

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