"We should not allow the hate of people who hurt us to permanently transform us." - Torture survivor and client of Survivors of Torture, International (Survivors) who wishes to remain anonymous.
When Amina* came to Survivors, she would burst into tears, uncontrollably. She isolated herself from others because she was afraid she would be found by those, from her home country, who wanted to torture and kill her. Survivors understood her fears and what it would take for her to heal from the severe trauma she had experienced. She slowly began to move forward with her life by joining Survivors' Healing Club, an activity that encourages physical activity and healthy eating. She learned how great she could feel after hiking one of San Diego's many trails, walking along the beach, and exploring Balboa Park. At creative therapy sessions, she learned she could use photographs, words, and art to work through her thoughts and emotions. Yet, she still could not bring herself to interact with others outside of the Survivors' staff.
Survivors urged Amina to join the agency’s annual commemoration of the UN’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Amina, along with 60 other torture survivors and their families started the event by learning about the meaning of day. There, Amina found that she was not alone in her experience. She met others who survived the horrors of torture and were also going through their journey to healing. Afterwards, the group enjoyed delicious healthy foods from Trader Joe’s, supported by a grant from Thrivent Financial.
Staff and volunteers provided a safe, nurturing, and relaxing environment for attendees. Some attendees felt so supported that they shared personal stories, including Amina, even though she was at first hesitant. As she learned the stories of other clients, she began to share hers. Amina was beaten so badly by the perpetrators in her country that she found it painful to walk. She shared that some of her friends and colleagues were kidnapped, tortured, and killed because they stood up for human rights. Amina shared that she was next to be killed and that she thought it would not be possible to hope for the future until she came to Survivors. Those at the picnic understood her story and reached out to support her and each other. The event continued into the afternoon with drumming, dancing, and musical games provided by Survivors’ partner, a music therapy organization, Resounding Joy. Amina also danced and drummed.
Today, Amina is enrolled in college and working part-time.
There are 35,000 survivors of political torture living in San Diego County. As the only accredited torture treatment center in the county, Survivors provides a variety of services to this under-served, often hidden, and invisible population while they recover from severe traumas and move toward a life of hope, growth, and self-sufficiency. Today, many Survivors clients have enrolled in adult or college courses, secured work permits, found jobs, and are giving back to their community.
*Name has been changed to protect client’s identity.
“The U.N. Day in Support of Victims of Torture reminds us not only of the horrors that our clients and many others have gone through, but of the amazing transformation that is possible when they are supported by quality services, program staff and a healing community,” said Kathi Anderson, Survivors of Torture, International/Executive Director about the International Support Day.