Melting-pot of minds, values and experiences
Here at Freedom from Torture we have just hosted the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) for their annual Council Meeting. My name is Andy Branch and I am a Quaker Peace and Social Witness Peaceworker placed at Freedom from Torture for one year. My task this week was to assist in the organisation and execution of two full days of events framed around the IRCT Council Meeting.
The IRCT Council members came to Freedom form Torture from all over the world, representing more than 20 countries. The cultural richness of the IRCT Council resonated through the halls at Freedom from Torture and I could hear the echoes of enthusiastic debate and dialogue around every corner. By the end of the second day, the key agenda items had been addressed and an agreement was reached on the London Declaration on Poverty and Torture.
Freedom from Torture hosted two evening events which involved our own staff who were very excited about getting involved. Both evenings of Freedom from Torture-led events were a resounding success and a melting-pot of minds, values and experiences.
The first evening began with a screening of a film introducing the work of the IRCT and featuring one of Freedom from Torture's clinicians, Mary Raphaely, co-ordinator of the Natural Growth Project. IRCT delegates were taken on an exclusive tour of this valuable project, and were able to view the stunning gardens and plants that have been carefully nurtured by the clients.
Hannah Rutledge, our Training and Capacity Building Officer, organised a round-table good practice exchange facilitated by many Freedom from Torture staff. Hannah's detailed and well thought out choreography and planning meant our guests from IRCT were at ease in a relaxed and fluid atmosphere. There were nine tables covering key subjects from long term therapeutic care to fundraising and media work. Lynn Hiltz and I facilitated a table on self-care, with extremely interesting dialogue. The open-space process was very organic and touched upon many key issues that spilled over into the dinner and drinks reception afterwards. The whole entrance hall of Freedom from Torture was bubbling with vibrant discussion.
The second evening was chaired by our Chief Executive, Keith Best, and showcased the work of the Write to Life group and the Survivors Speak OUT (SS0) network. The Write to Life clients were introduced by Sheila Hayman, the project co-ordinator, who described the important role that this therapy has in our work at Freedom from Torture. The clients' poetry and prose was mesmerising, drawing us in, showing us the emotion in their work, and causing us to ask ourselves pertinent questions about humanity.
The SSO network, co-ordinated by Kolbassia, demonstrated their strong commitment to survivor activism and campaigning. They spoke out about their experiences and the importance of campaigning as survivors of torture against torture. We were privileged to be shown a short film that is still being finalised by the SSO network, but was still powerful in its message; breaking down barriers and stereotypes of torture survivors as asylum seekers and refugees.
As the IRCT delegates began to leave, the atmosphere was thick with stories shared and reluctant goodbyes. Parting comments vindicated the value that meetings like this have for those who work in such a complex field. The last two days have been some of the most intense, productive and rewarding that I have spent at Freedom from Torture. I learned so much about other organisations working around the globe to challenge torture wherever it is borne, and it was a poignant reminder of the empowerment and value that networks like this hold for survivors of torture the world over.