Encouraging Refugees to Come to CVT for Care | The Center for Victims of Torture

Encouraging Refugees to Come to CVT for Care

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Yohannes Asmelash Embaye, psychosocial counselor, CVT Ethiopia.

If you step on something sharp while walking with your bare feet, you are hurt by the sharp object. What do you feel? Pain? Then, say the wound gets infected – it may turn red, begin to swell, become more painful. What do you do? You might go to the clinic to see a doctor, or you may ask your friend to remove the sharp object from your foot. This little story is a very useful metaphor for me in my work with refugees in the camp here in northern Ethiopia. Using this simple metaphor helps me when I’m trying to help them understand the kind of rehabilitative care we extend. Seeking care from CVT when you have survived the pain of torture and traumatic experiences is very similar to this situation – I tell people that help is available for other kinds of pain they feel. This helps people overcome their resistance to getting psychological help, and the metaphor allows people to put mental health care in context.

I also mention that sometimes when you remove the sharp object, it causes pain. Counseling can work in this way at times, I tell them: you may speak about something that causes you pain, but that can mean you are beginning to be healed.

At CVT, we use a 10-week group counseling model, and through my work as a psychosocial counselor, I see that the groups have effects, slowly, over time. Just like the sharp object caused the foot swelling after some time had passed, healing takes time as well. Counseling is not sudden. It’s a slow process.

I have been working for CVT for nearly four years. When I lived in Eritrea, I was a teacher and was also promoted to director. When I came to the camp in Ethiopia, I first worked as child protection team leader with the UN and other organizations in the camp. My work in child protection was focused on their safety and care in three areas: 1) the cleanliness of the living place and quality of their care, 2) their security protections, including protecting them from smugglers, and 3) acting as a foster parent and helping with their education.

The children in the refugee camp are vulnerable; they may be susceptible to diseases or a number of types of food poisoning. We were always careful to ensure they had hygienic food. And we worked to make sure they were protected from smugglers or people who might try to harm them.

Now at CVT, I do intake assessments and work in the groups as a facilitator. I also meet with clients individually. We make home visits too, so we can meet with new clients or follow up with them after the group cycle has completed. We also take steps to remind them about upcoming appointments and sessions.

Among our community from Eritrea, people have suffered from torture and traumatic experiences. I understand how they feel and what they have been through because I too was a victim. So I also understand that awareness of CVT in the community is very important.

I was attracted to join CVT organization because it is an organization that is doing good work to help people heal. Today in my role I provide awareness about the work of CVT and help identify people who may benefit as clients. I reach out to people and encourage victims to become beneficiaries. I take the time to show them how to contact us and register for help, and I also do pre-screenings.

To help raise awareness of CVT, we explain the history of CVT and the work we do. I always make sure to also explain what CVT does not do: we don’t provide material items or funding. I explain this in black and white. We tell beneficiaries that there are community services that are not done by CVT – we use referrals to other organizations that provide those services. We explain that CVT extends counseling and that we use the group method.

I work with care to encourage people to be participants because they are often resistant. Most clients ask about the group counseling, but they also ask about financial support. However, we cannot provide financial support – for that, we refer them to stakeholders. Some may have problems with clothing – we show them where to go. To help people understand what CVT is here for, I ask them questions, I create a picture. I ask, What is the purpose of your eye? To see. What is the purpose of your ear? To listen or hear. Every organization in the camp, similarly, has a purpose. You cannot listen with your eyes, but you must keep your eyes healthy and clean in order to see. And so, CVT provides counseling – if you need another kind of service, you go to that place. Come to CVT for help with processing your trauma.

The most important part of my work is the healing process I carry out. Before the counseling cycle, clients are in a very problematic place. They have difficulty coping. Then as they go through the counseling process, they begin to heal. And helping clients after counseling is also very important. They complete the 10-week cycle of group sessions and then we do ongoing assessments. I observe many improvements. This is the most inspiring aspect of my work.

I like this profession and this work because I was also a victim. In the future, I want to improve myself in the counseling profession and at CVT. I want to continue with education opportunities because I see how many clients have a need. They need help to continue. I appreciate what we do here.


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.



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