Abeba Kahday Tesfankiel is a psychosocial counselor at CVT Ethiopia.
As a psychosocial counselor in the refugee camps in northern Ethiopia, it’s very rewarding to me to work with the women clients. Before they come to CVT, some women are isolated. Many of them have survived sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV), so they don’t want to socialize. They prefer to be in their homes – they feel ashamed of this thing that happened. When the women first come to CVT, many of them tell us they want to end their lives. Often they are not taking care of themselves and their children properly. But after the CVT group counseling sessions, so many of them later become exemplary members of the community.
Prior to my work with CVT, I was a zone leader in the Mai Ayni camp and a women’s administrator. As a zone leader, I conducted sensitization events to inform the community about services and resources that were available. I also participated in meetings and worked as a storekeeper as part of my responsibilities as a women’s administrator.
I first was introduced to CVT when I attended a sensitization meeting in the community. After I got information, I was interested because I saw that the organization helps people. I decided to apply for an open position because social workers were encouraged to apply. I knew that with this work, I could help my community. I did the interviews and passed the exams, and I was hired to CVT.
In the community sensitization events I had been doing previously, I provided information about available services and material things such as rations, clothes, etc. But at CVT, our sensitizations are not about things. The sessions are designed to help us get people who’ve been through traumatic experiences to understand about the care CVT offers. The context is different, and it’s important.
I work on community sensitization every day. We need to be out in the community on a regular basis because in many situations, those who have been through trauma don’t want to socialize. They want to stay home, to stay apart and not interact with other people. If we don’t reach them, we cannot help them. So this is very important.
People are often very reluctant to come for rehabilitative care because they lack information. There have been rumors in the camp that CVT is a place for “mad people.” So as a result, people are hesitant to come even though they have been through traumatic experiences. So we work hard to have the community receive accurate information.
And so many people in the refugee community have had very difficult experiences. They have symptoms of trauma: hopelessness, anxiety, depression. It’s important that we are able to reach out to them, so in addition to sensitizations, we also connect through the zone leaders and other leaders in the community. We take care to inform people not only about CVT’s services, but also about CVT’s policy of confidentiality. This helps people feel they will be safe sharing their stories and the experiences that have affected them.
I work with all the clients: men, women, children. We have a different approach for each of the groups, and it’s based on the clients’ level of understanding. As an example, our approach for sensitizations or intakes differs depending on whether we are speaking to children or adults. We use words that are appropriate for the age group.
At the first sensitization event, most women say they don’t know anything about CVT. After they get to understand about counseling and begin to participate, however, they look forward to coming to CVT. I appreciate the effectiveness of our work when, after clients have attended the counseling cycle, we do follow-up meetings. At the follow up, which takes place three and six months later, I see them with their families, in business activities, doing well in their lives. I see them engaged in activities, perhaps doing business or running a small shop.
It’s important to me especially to help women to get to CVT and get help. When I see them, I see hope. In the groups, I see clients who don’t want to talk or to bring up anything; they just put their head down and feel very shy. This may be because of their experience of trauma. But in weeks, they start talking. At end, they are very active participants. I feel happy and motivated when I see this transformation.
CVT is doing a tremendous job in our community. People are getting benefit at CVT centers.
CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.