Sudanese Survivors in Dadaab | The Center for Victims of Torture

Sudanese Survivors in Dadaab

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Judith Twala, MA, is a psychotherapist/trainer with the Center for Victims of Torture in Dadaab, Kenya. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp in the northeast region of Kenya, close to the Judy TwalaSomali border. Most refugees in this complex of camps are from Somalia with others from South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries.  Read more about our work in Dadaab at

Earlier this year, the chairman of minority groups among the refugees gave me a courtesy call and expressed his need to have a chat with me. We agreed that he would visit our IFO center the following morning.

To my surprise, he was seated under a tree by 8:00 am waiting to speak with a “Judy” he had not met before. The current counseling group cycle had not started so I decided to meet him in one of our cool counseling tukuls (African huts made of thatches). I introduced myself and asked him how he was to assess his mood that morning. He gave me a summary of who he is, when he arrived in the camp and who he represents in the camps.

He said he had been trying to get in touch with CVT so that he can express his desire for CVT services for the Sudanese community living in IFO 2 (another refugee camp within the Dadaab complex). The way he expressed the mental status of the Sudanese sounded like an exaggerated version but I agreed to send a few of our psychosocial counselors (PSCs) to assess the situation on the ground. He left our center promising to be punctual the following morning to accompany our counselors to the Sudanese blocks in IFO 2.

The next day, after I briefed the PSCs with the questions they should ask, the team set off for IFO 2.

When the counselors returned to our headquarters a few minutes after noon, they were very exhausted. We gave them some time to rest and then we assembled in one of the offices in IFO to hear the results of the mission. To begin, they said they felt overwhelmed by what they saw and heard. They learned that 70% of the Sudanese youths living in IFO 2 are torture survivors.

As soon as I returned to my office, I wrote an email to CVT headquarters about filling a current opening with a South Sudanese psychosocial counselor to enable us reach this very needy community. We soon identified candidates for the job. All three candidates reported that seeing the suffering of their community motivated them to apply for the position. Two of the candidates firmly and genuinely said even if it meant working for CVT as volunteers, they would take up the job to make sure their community got help.

The interview session were almost like counseling sessions with the candidates sharing how their families were killed and two of them were the only surviving members. Later after the interview, other non-clinical staff said it was difficult to hear those stories and wondered how the clinical team managed listening to so many of the kind.

Now, we are even more convinced that more than one South Sudanese PSC would be ideal to help us start at least two counseling groups next year. With the current instability in Southern Sudan, more and more Sudanese are running for their lives and we expect the numbers to rise in the near future. With all the support needed, we as the program team in Dadaab are committed to offering the best services to ensure restoration of human dignity.


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