From counseling torture victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fixing bikes for political refugees in Minneapolis, the Center for Victims of Torture provides healing services that reach around the world.
CVT provides free mental health treatment to victims of politically motivated torture in centers and partnership programs in the United States, Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe, with a specific focus in Africa. CVT is the first organization in the United States and the third worldwide to focus on providing mental health services to victims of torture.
CVT opened in Minneapolis in 1985 with strong support from then-Governor Rudy Perpich. Last year, the Minneapolis center served 243 clients, most of whom were immigrants, refugees, or seeking asylum. Some 85.5 percent of these clients come from countries in Africa.
Erin Morgan, CVT’s International Programs Clinical Consultant, travels to Africa twice a year to develop training programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to provide counseling to clients. She reports that at least half of the population in the DRC have been victims or witnesses of various types of torture including rape (either by soldiers or forcing one family member to rape another family member), forced labor, beatings, being forced to watch a family member killed, and burning of houses with or without people inside.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” Morgan says, “It’s humbling in a literal sense. You arrive and just begin to start absorbing the depth and the breadth of the need.”
Pam Kriege Santoso, manager of CVT’s International Capacity Building Project in Minneapolis, also makes yearly trips to develop counseling resources and programs in CVT centers and sister organizations in regions of East Africa.
“A lot of what we do, in addition to training programs, is through local grants. We meet with these organizations to develop training plans and then we give them grants to implement some of that plan. We provide funding for staff to make sure they don’t lose that capacity.”
In 2008, CVT was awarded grant for about two million dollars by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) to support increased operations in Africa. The objective of the grant is to improve resources and capacity for counseling programs for long-term healing of victims in partner rehabilitation centers. Two-thirds of the grant specifically funds CVT operations in the DRC.
The grant ensures that for the next three years, CVT and its partner organizations can not only provide sustainable support to clients who are in need of long term treatment, but will also keep these centers staffed and operating.
“It’s so critical in this line of work to do everything you can to secure funding for multiple years,” Morgan says, “It is very difficult for a community to say, ‘Yeah, come on in! Crack everything wide open and we’ll spill our secrets! Oh, you have to go in September?’ You know? That’s not easy for anybody, so it’s important that this not be flash in the pan work.”
Jaclyn Evert is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota.