Notes from the Field: Reaching More Survivors Than Ever at CVT Nairobi | The Center for Victims of Torture

Notes from the Field: Reaching More Survivors Than Ever at CVT Nairobi

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Curt Goering is CVT’s executive director.

There are many days when the work of CVT encompasses extremes, from hearing about the depths of human suffering that result from torture, to witnessing the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit that surfaces as part of healing.

These extremes are evident nearly every day at CVT Nairobi, a program that has seen significant growth in the five years since we first opened a center. CVT runs programs at several locations in Kenya—in Dadaab (in eastern Kenya not far from the border with Somalia); in Nairobi (where CVT runs centers in parts of the city where refugees have settled); and now our most recent program in the Kakuma refugee camps and neighboring Kalobeyei settlement (in the northwest of Kenya, not far from the borders with South Sudan and Uganda). In these combined locations CVT employs about 100 staff, 99 percent of them local. Today, among the hundreds of current clients, one of them is client number 5,000 in Kenya. That number will grow rapidly with CVT’s newest project just getting underway in Kakuma.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit CVT Nairobi and Kakuma. In Kenya I was reminded again of the enormous numbers of refugees that country (and neighboring countries) is hosting - hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people - mostly in refugee camps, but also tens upon tens of thousands struggling to eke out an existence in the urban environment of Nairobi. 

I couldn’t help but contrast this to the embarrassingly low number - a few thousand - allowed to enter the U.S. under the Trump Administration. Of course, Kenya borders conflict areas, so it is inevitable that large numbers will flee to neighboring countries during times of conflict. Resettlement to other countries has only been an option for a tiny percentage of refugees, but even that tiny percentage (less than 1 percent) has shriveled further over the last year. That such a small number is all the U.S. is willing to accommodate is hard for our staff here to comprehend.  Instead they see a wealthy country shutting its doors to embarrassingly small numbers, while Kenya (like Uganda and Ethiopia), not a wealthy nation, is hosting hundreds of thousands with more arriving every day. 

I heard again and again the enormous challenges many refugees confront as they struggle to survive in the urban environment to which they have fled. Access to basic services like clean water, elementary health care or shelter is often exceedingly difficult. Of course, for CVT’s clients, who bring with them the deep physical or mental wounds from the events they have survived, access can be, and often is, even harder, as they struggle to function in a new country.

Yet, having fled often with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing when they had to flee, many refugees also face formidable economic barriers. Even if they are healthy enough to be employed, the vast majority are unable to get permission to work. That forces refugees and asylum seekers to search for work in the informal sector with all the vulnerabilities that presents.

In addition to hearing about the daily struggle to survive, I also heard about the fears that some have about agents of the government they fled still pursuing them, creating another layer of fear and uncertainty. The demands on our staff are high and the burdens they carry are heavy.

At our newest program in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, which is still being set up, it was impressive to see how much has already been accomplished in such a short period of time. There is so much involved in setting up a new program in a difficult and remote location, much of it requiring substantial knowledge and skills in areas outside clinical work: choosing and negotiating sites for CVT buildings and services in the camp and UNHCR compound; designing, procuring and building the office, accommodations, kitchen and counseling tukuls; managing contractors, hiring multiple staff and balancing ethnic sensitivities; building and maintaining ties with host community, partner organizations and refugee leaders, meeting multiple deadlines, etc., etc. It was inspiring to see and feel the enthusiasm of our staff as they build this program. It’s a true partnership between the field and headquarters staff.

After meeting with clients and staff, the importance of CVT’s specialized programming can hardly be overstated. Our clients have endured so much pain and suffering, and our staff hear endless stories of hardship. Yet, they also see, almost every day, what a difference their work makes in the lives of these survivors. They also are first to see how much more there is to do.

Whatever role you may have within the larger CVT community— whether on staff in the field or at headquarters, whether a clinician or driver, researcher or fundraiser, a keeper of our finances or a provider of administrative support—or as a member of CVT’s Board, or as a volunteer or financial contributor—each of these is a profoundly critical role which, together, makes a world of difference as we walk with survivors on their path to healing.

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; the S.L. Gimbel Advised Fund at The Community Foundation – Inland Southern California.

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