One Person’s Healing Can Help Many Others, Even Babies

Monday, April 2, 2018

Teresia Macharia is a psychosocial counselor at CVT Nairobi.

The work we do with clients in Nairobi helps the individual survivor, and it can also help the people close to them, sometimes including tiny babies. I work with clients who come from many different situations, with many difficult stories from their past. One group I work with is teenage girls who have been raped and now have children. They struggle with the pregnancy and then with raising a child. They ask “What will my child come to be?” These girls are 16-17 years old. We work in group counseling sessions, and often the biggest concern in these groups is “How will I raise my child? What will I tell them about the father?”

At CVT, we are always working to help clients look at their situation in another way. I ask them “What good can we see here?” With a very young mother, we help her accept her child today, in this situation right now. We talk about how she feels about the child, separate from the traumatic experiences she went through in the past. I ask, “Can you envision a situation where, even if the child learns about her father, it won’t affect her because you love her?”

The group counseling cycle has ten sessions, and over this time we start seeing changes. I hear young women say, “Yes, I’ve been raised by different people in very different situations, and that shaped me. That helped make me who I am. But now I’m raising my own child, and it’s up to me. It doesn’t matter who the father was.” Sometimes I will ask a young client, “What if the situation was simply that he had died?”

I see girls go through a change in their thinking. In time, she can acknowledge, “I really love my baby. It’s my baby.” In these cases, I’m helping a 16 year-old as well as a baby. I see hope that the child will not have negative impacts as a result of that traumatic past.

One girl I worked with had been married at a younger age and had a child with her husband, whom she loved very much. During the war, she was raped in her home country, and so her family threw her out. As she fled to Kenya, she was raped again. Over several difficult years, she had two babies who were born of rape. After coming to CVT, she could say of the two children from rape, “These are my children, too. It doesn’t matter.”

“They won’t grow up knowing anything short of love,” she told me.

One of the activities we use in the counseling sessions is the River of Life. In this exercise, we ask clients, including this young woman, to look at their life as a river, starting back in happier times. We ask them to place a stone along the river for every negative experience, and a flower for every good memory.

For this young woman, who had been crying during the intake interview, when the groups were closing, she was so changed. We looked back at her River of Life, and she said “These children are flowers.”

Before I joined CVT, I was a counselor in Dadaab refugee camp for three years, working with children with mental health problems. We did advocacy, support for girls in school, counseling, mentorship clubs, as well as psychosocial support for adults in Dadaab.

In my work in the camp, we had partnered with CVT, and I knew their counselors there. I could see they knew what they were doing. So when I saw a notice for an open CVT position in Nairobi, I knew if I took a job there I would grow professionally. I was also interested in working with urban refugees. In camp, refugees have almost everything they need, while in urban areas, they struggle on a daily basis. So I made the move to CVT.

The work we do is a process – we help clients change their perspective, not change their situation. I appreciate CVT because in other places I worked, the mental health care doesn’t go this deep – these wounds are in the heart.

We can’t supply clients with a quick answer, but they can see how it will pass with time.

The most important thing in my work is when clients say I’m giving them the opportunity to tell their story in their own words. They see I’m not getting something out of it. I’m not going to judge. I won’t say they’re fabricating their story.

Clients say “I’ve shared something with you I’ve never shared before. You gave me an opportunity I’ve never had.”

We give them a moment to feel, to break down, to express their feelings. They learn to trust over time, to really trust our process and trust us with their stories. I listen and I think, “What can I do to make this moment better?”

 

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

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