Survivors of Torture, International Helps Victims Recover from Trauma

NEWS // JUNE 18, 2017

Survivors of Torture, International Helps Victims Recover from Trauma

There are 1.3 million torture survivors living in the United States. More than 35,000 adult and child torture survivors reside in San Diego County. Most were tortured because of their religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, political viewpoints or defense of human rights.

Since 1997, Survivors of Torture, International has served and cared for more than 2,000 men, women and children who have fled from over 80 different countries where torture is prevalent. As the only accredited torture treatment center in San Diego County, Survivors has provided services to 1,217 unduplicated torture survivors and their families, who came from over 60 countries and spoke 67 different languages and dialects over the past five years. Last year, Survivors served 502 unduplicated clients. More than half of them were under the age of 17 years old.

Many of today’s torture survivors have lost their homes, family members, friends, possessions, professions and more. Many have also lost hope. Here is one story of hope lost, regained and success. Henok is a former client of Survivors. This is Henok’s story:

"My name is Henok Getanhe. It was in 2009 that I stepped in to the Survivors of Torture, International office for the first time. Since then the organization has become part of my family. I remember vividly when Patricia, one of the staff members, welcomed me with a genuine smile. It was that first impression that made me trust Survivors.

In 2009 life was hard. I was just released from the immigration detention center. I did not have any legal documents nor source of income. I was lucky to have my uncle to help me with housing and some financial support with legal fees. I did not have friends; I was lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed. After talking with an immigration lawyer, the attorney saw my hardship and recommended that I talk to Survivors. The attorney told me they can help me but I didn’t know how they could help. My needs were a lot.

Following her advice I came to Survivors. I was so impressed first of all by their professionalism, kindness  and ethics, and second by their services for undocumented clients. I participated in all activities to alleviate my stress, anxiety and depression. I was participating in group therapy, hiking and group picnics. At that time, there were 7 people coming from different countries: El Salvador, Ethiopia (myself), Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and Uganda. The group therapy helped us to create a space like no other place could offer. We shared our past sufferings, our day-to-day life burdens, and above all we shared our hopes and dreams. We were offered bus passes whenever we had appointments. We always took home some hygienic products and food. To cure my depression symptoms, I had a professional counselor for almost two years two times a week at no charge.

As my lawyer filed application for asylum she highly recommended that I needed to bring physical and psychological evaluations done by professionals. Without these two evaluations, it would be very hard to win my case. I was worried and stressed because I don’t have money to pay for it. However, Survivors assisted me with these two evaluations for free. In 2011 I was granted asylum. Nobody knows the relief that I felt, words can’t express it. It is a feeling of the beginning of new life, hopes and dreams.

Soon after I got my asylum, I started working at Subway, McDonalds, and as a taxi driver. I also worked at Catholic Charites as a case manager assisting refugees and asylees. In October 2015, I became US citizen and Kathi Anderson from Survivors was there with me representing my family during the oath ceremony. Now I work as an independent contractor as an interpreter. I also study at USD Grad School. I am so grateful for Survivors of Torture, International for their continued support and encouragement to fulfill my dreams. May God bless Survivors of Torture, International as they bring people from their shadow to the light so that we become light for others as well!"

Note: Henok graduated from the University of San Diego this past May with an M.A. in Nonprofit Leadership and Management.