In the 13 years I have been working with Freedom from Torture I have seen many changes. However, the core of my work has remained the same – to develop strategic training and learning programmes to enable professionals to understand and support the needs of torture survivors in ways that are ethical, accessible and appropriate...
I have worked in the refugee sector all my career. I began working with refugee families and separated young people when I was a student in the US, helping families with a range of resettlement issues, from registering children in schools to accompanying the family to apply for society security numbers.
It wasn’t long before I recognised wider systemic barrier and obstacles that many of the refugee families faced that made it difficult for them to feel safe or settled. The next thing I know I am calling meetings to facilitate dialogue between refugees and a range of authorities and community links – social workers, teachers, health workers, police – and between the refugees themselves.
It wasn’t long before I recognised wider systemic barrier and obstacles that many of the refugee families faced that made it difficult for them to feel safe or settled. The next thing I know I am calling meetings to facilitate dialogue between refugees and a range of authorities and community links...
Together we developed creative solutions to support better understanding and integration between and within communities. This systematic and participatory approach has been at the heart of my work ever since.
We are a small team – just three people based in the London centre – and our work is very varied as we interact with other staff, such as the clinical teams in our centres around the country, and our policy or legal teams. Training is not really about individuals but about collaboration. Every day is different and there is no typical day.
For example, today my morning began when I joined our senior policy advisor to review the training and advocacy strategy in relation to our “Proving Torture“ campaign. Often evidence of torture is mistreated and misunderstood by asylum caseworkers, with the result that well-founded asylum claims are rejected. Our meeting considered how we could help to impact change, for example through better understanding and use of medical evidence of torture, and how we could effectively convey this to Home Office decision makers, legal representatives and tribunal staff.
Next up was a meeting to finalise a programme plan for the roll out of specialist training to be held in Newcastle, where our north-east centre is based. Our Risks, Resilience and Rights programme consists of four modules, over 14 days, interspersed over six months. The core of the training are the clinical modules focusing on working with separated young people and with young people and families. It isn’t easy co-ordinating the availability of all the facilitators who will be part of the programme – they each need to juggle their therapy work with torture survivors with the time needed to prepare for the training.
We are really excited about Risk, Resilience and Rights, it is one of our most comprehensive training programmes and covers complex and sensitive areas, such as power and difference, as well as the deeply traumatic experiences of persecution, torture and displacement that affect separated young people. Added to this are the difficulties of dealing with the UK’s labyrinthine asylum system, which often exacerbates their trauma.
We are really excited about Risk, Resilience and Rights, it is one of our most comprehensive training programmes and covers complex and sensitive areas, such as power and difference, as well as the deeply traumatic experiences of persecution, torture and displacement that affect separated young people.
Another of today’s tasks was following up with our National Training Forum. Each centre has at least one designated Training Lead, who continually map emerging and ongoing needs and gaps in services in their area.
Again, at the local level we are finding emerging patterns of systemic barriers that make it difficult, for numerous reasons, for survivors of torture to access our services or other essential support in their area. Thus, we hope to create a strategic programme plan to enable us to expand our reach and support more professionals, such as health and social workers, on how best to support refugees and torture survivors in these areas.
People often associate training with lecturing and top-down delivery but we operate a more open community development model, based on participatory learning. Of course, we draw on the knowledge and expertise of our clinicians and therapists but our sessions aim to exchange and value each other’s knowledge and experience.
I like so many aspects of my job but the most rewarding thing is the buzz I get from building a creative space and successful problem solving. The part I like least is the admin involved, booking venues, travel and hotels, and sorting out budgets.
I have many happy memories of training sessions that went successfully and appreciative feedback from participants. I think the best of all is seeing members of Survivors Speak OUT, our network of torture survivors, developing and facilitating their own training sessions, bring home to participants the reality of what it means to be a refugee or asylum seeker in the UK.