Stories from Lebanon: Peering Over the Edge

During the month of June, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program Director, Steve Connors, is traveling through Lebanon and the surrounding region to connect with several Coalition member organizations and document their work with refugees to mitigate some of the devastation. In this first blog post of a new series, Steve sets the stage of the Coalition’s next collaborative Storytelling project, which will feature SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), HelpAge International and Handicap International.

Peering Over the Edge 
by Steve Connors

Amid the towering reconstruction of today’s Beirut stand the war-ravaged buildings of the Lebanese civil war. Once beautiful homes such as this one on Damascus Street - the front line during the fighting of 1975 to 88 - serve as an almost sculptural testimony of the price, the folly, and the pity of war.

Since the middle of the last century Lebanon has seen more than its fair share of violence, tragedy and misery. Bookended by mass influxes of people fleeing from regional conflicts have been years of devastating civil war followed by invasion and occupation by foreign powers. The 1990’s through to 2007 saw a brief period of stability, during which the country was able to invest in reconstruction, filling the skyline with modern apartment blocks and business towers. But as protest led to unrest and violence in 2011, neighbouring Syria descended into civil war, triggering a regional conflict for domination and turning the country into a cockpit of regional and geo-political tensions.

As tens or hundreds of thousands died, millions of Syrians fled into neighbouring countries seeking refuge from the escalating violence, desperate to secure an increasingly tenuous grip on their survival. At the time of writing, the United Nations estimates that one and a half million Syrian refugees live in tiny Lebanon. The Lebanese government claims there are more than two million, a figure lent credibility by the author’s visits to camps, in which some thirty percent of refugees remain unregistered with the UN. Confirmation of that number would mean an increase of fifty percent in the population of Lebanon.

In 2015 with the country’s infrastructure and patience stretched well beyond the government’s capacity to cope, and with international assistance cut to levels below those necessary to sustain life, the official border crossings from Syria were closed to refugees. But they still come, desperately crossing the dangerous - often mined - mountain paths to reach safety.

Some of the people, if they have the resources, rent apartments in Beirut, Tripoli or other towns. Some settle in the already teeming Palestinian camps established after 1948 - the Badaawi camp in Tripoli is now stretched beyond capacity by an estimated 70,000 Syrians living in tiny rented rooms. This, in a one square kilometer area occupied by eighteen thousand Palestinians. But the overwhelming majority of refugees are eking out an existence in the Bekaa valley, at the foot of the mountains that form the frontier between Lebanon and Syria.

Syrian women from a nearby refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley planting seeds in a local farmer’s field.

Tens of thousands of families living in the squalid conditions of temporary shelter are scattered up and down the valley floor, the only services provided by UN agencies and NGOs with scant resources and funding.

With wholly inadequate daily allowances, many of the refugees there are forced to cope with food insecurity on top of the misery and indignity of their everyday lives. Unable to afford the cost of registration with the Lebanese authorities, most refugees are unable to pass through the many checkpoints on the roads leading out of the valley so cannot move around the country. In an effort to feed their families the only solution for them is to seek casual labour in the valley’s fields, where local landlords - some of whom have smuggled the refugees into the country in the first place, and put them to work as repayment of their debt - are only too eager to exploit the opportunity for cheap labour. The going rate for five hours of planting under a baking sun is four US dollars.

With the labour market flooded by desperate workers - the cheapest and most employable of whom are women and children - wages for Lebanese workers have plummeted, and tensions between local people and the refugees have risen to dangerous levels. Increasingly, whole camps are forced to move to other parts of the valley because of violence or the threat of violence as the war next door drags on, and the tolerance of the hosts wears progressively thin.

The Syrian war has no end in sight, and whomever one asks in Lebanon, whether they are Lebanese, Syrian or the foreign nationals working with the overstretched humanitarian organisations, the belief is that the refugee problem in the country is of such a chronic nature that it will severely test the peace that the country has only so recently been able to enjoy.

Spring 2017 Fellow: Judith Bagachwa, HelpAge Tanzania

2017 Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow Judith Bagachwa is currently completing her fellowship with HelpAge International Tanzania (HAITAN). She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Hubert Kairuki in Tanzania and is the founder and director of the Jb Geriatric and HIV Center in Dar Es Salaam. In this blog post, Judith describes her experience working on the “Afya Kibaha - International Health Ageing through a Life Course Approach” project to promote healthy living practices across generations of community members in Tanzania.

Pictured above is Judith in discussion with a community member from Bamba village about the village's 2-acre farming activity.

As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with HelpAge Tanzania, I have learned and gained a lot from working on the "Afya Kibaha 2025" project, a community-based approach designed to promote healthy living practices across all ages. This project takes a life course approach to health in view of the role that intergenerational relationships, families, and communities have in promoting health across all ages. It integrates a community-based approach to “reduce modifiable risk factors for non-communicable diseases and underlying social determinants through creation of health-promoting environments.” The project further seeks to increase a sustainable youth engagement and strengthened intergenerational partnerships to support healthy living practices.

The goals of the Afya Kibaha 2025 project are to:
1. Support health promotion and improve health among all ages
2. Prevent/delay the onset of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)
3. Support the health and functioning of older persons with non-communicable diseases.

Project Training and Community Life Competence Approach
During the project, we conducted a total of five training sessions involving 240 participants from 10 communities: Mlandizi, Mtambani, Mwendapole A, Mwendapole B, Boko Mnemela, Mnemela Kibaoni, Mharakani, Bamba, Picha ya Ndege and Kongowe. Through the use of our CLCP approach (Community Life Competence Process), community members were trained and asked to come up with their own health projects that would benefit their communities. The CLCP process aims at promoting self-reliance by stimulating older persons to appreciate their strength and abilities. The CLCP facilitates the empowerment of people and communities to discover and use their own strengths to address life concerns.

Participants planning and strategizing about their community dream

Family Health Mentors
During the trainings, six intergenerational family health mentors from each community were selected and given the task of educating their respective communities about health issues, especially on non-communicable diseases, and guiding families to live healthy lives by visiting health clinics, doing regular exercises, and setting up vegetable gardens. The aim of the trainings was to ensure that healthy lives are promoted and advocated to all ages (Children, Youth, Adults and Older Persons). Community dreams and action plans therefore focused on promoting intergenerational healthy practices to better protect communities from health risks. As the participants who attended the trainings represented their respective communities, they were able to identify challenges within their communities and later come up with ideas on how they can solve the health-related issues. As a team, these community members explored all the opportunities and developed action plans towards achieving their community dreams.

Outcomes from the project observed to date:

  • An increasing number of people are understanding the importance of doing physical exercises and joining the active ageing groups.
  • Community members had been encouraged and motivated to have vegetable gardens, both at family level and community level; as a result, family members are now eating nutritional food staff from their own gardens.
  • More youths, adults, and older persons are going for health checkups.

Celebrating at the Learning Festival
In March 2017, all ten communities were invited to come and share their experiences at a learning festival. During the festival, video clips from the different communities and their projects were shown. Through these and the testimonies of how the Intergenerational project had helped children, youths and older persons, all were able to see how the CLCP approach had a positive impact on people’s lives in Kibaha. The CLCP approach required people to use their own resources and strengths to achieve their goals at both the family and community level, guiding them on how not to be dependents and instead to seek out and apply their own resources. The festival helped people realize that they can do something better for themselves and improve on their lives.

I am so thankful I was able to conduct this project. I have been able to see how a young generation can work with an older generation and bring change in the community. Through HelpAge and the Hilton Prize Coalition, a door has been opened for me and my organization.

Four recommendations to prepare for climate-related migration

Through the Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Models Program, Landesa and BRAC co-authored the collaborative issue brief, “Land Tenure as a Critical Consideration for Climate Change-Related Displacement in Slow-Onset Disaster Zones.” To coincide with World Environment Day, Jennifer Duncan, Sr. Attorney and Land Tenure Specialist (Landesa), and Ashley Toombs, External Affairs Manager (BRAC), wrote a recent op-ed that highlights recommendations from the issue brief on climate change-related displacement and slow-onset disaster zones.

This piece was originally published by Devex.


The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is connecting people to nature. There is no greater example of that connection than climate change-related displacement caused by slow-onset disasters.

The world will see more frequent and more devastating natural disasters as the effects of climate change intensify. This includes both rapid-onset disasters, such as hurricanes, and slow-onset disasters such as long-term droughts and famines. Slow-onset climate change impacts are often not apparent until it is too late, and they will increasingly disrupt the lives of rural people in the global south, especially the poor, women and children.

Right now, there are 1.4 million children at risk of death from malnutrition, due in part to severe drought caused primarily by climate change. According to United Nations estimates, nearly 20 million people at risk due to famine or near-famine conditions in four countries — South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

 

New Collaborative Issue Brief Examines Climate Change-Related Displacement

We are pleased to present a new issue brief that examines critical issues of climate change, refugees, and land tenure rights. This is the product of a collaboration between members Landesa and BRAC generated through the Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Models Program. Landesa led the desk research for and writing of the brief on land and climate change, with a specific focus on slow onset displacement due to drought. The brief highlights a case study by BRAC in Uganda as one of the countries where slow-onset disaster has taken a toll in recent years, and presents best practices as well as a call to action. Read more and download the brief here.

Spring 2017 Fellow: Samantha Acosta, HelpAge USA

Samantha Acosta is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with HelpAge USA, an organization which advocates and empowers older persons to secure, active and healthy lifestyles. In this capacity, she focuses on the organization’s Healthy Aging Programs, conducting research related to fundraising, partnership building and grant management.

Samantha recently graduated with her Master’s degree in Social Work from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, where she explored gerontology infused courses with both a national and international focus. She has also conducted field research in Uganda, where she collected data on older persons’ quality of life, along with perceived needs and barriers. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Cultural Anthropology and Politics in 2014.

In the blog post below, she writes about her experiences in Uganda and the implementation of the Healthy Outcomes Tool.

Oli otya, Greetings from Uganda

In May 2016, I embarked upon my first trip to Uganda, where 12 Dominican University students and I had the opportunity to work closely with Health Nest Uganda, addressing the health needs and concerns of older persons by utilizing the Healthy Outcomes Tool (HOT). HOT is used as an assessment tool to evaluate an older person’s health status, functionality, access to health services, safety, and self-care. During this process, we traveled to four rural communities, where we followed up with older persons for the second round of data collection. By promoting the Healthy Outcomes Tool, the team was able to clearly identify barriers and obstacles that the older persons’ were facing in everyday life. Some of the obstacles addressed were mobility, distance to the health centers, whether medications were readily available, cost of medications, fear of being abandoned by family members, and property being taken. As we were able to gather and evaluate the given data, we addressed these issues and concerns with the leaders of each community. We gathered qualitative data on simple programs that could be implemented in order to create possible solutions for the barriers that were addressed. During our final meeting, a leader from each community joined to discuss what their personal community had decided to implement. The ideas were magnificent and suited each community in their own special way. I said my goodbyes to Uganda and the communities I worked with in May 2016, not knowing when I would return.

(Key older person leaders and Dominican University students, May 2016)

Thankfully, my story and work with Uganda and with Health Nest Uganda continued. Following graduation and after receiving my Master’s degree in Social Work, I decided to focus my studies on Uganda and how older persons are affected throughout the world. I collaborated with Kristin Bodiford, Health Advisor at HelpAge USA, learning about the issues of older persons and HelpAge’s mission to tackle those barriers. Through my work as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I was able to return to Uganda in February 2017. During the second phase of my fieldwork, I was able to see the incredible progress that was made. Some communities incorporated singing, dancing and exercise programs in their regimen (photo below), while others focused on sanitation surrounding the latrines and handwashing, enhancing nutrition by building their very own catering business, and setting up regular check-ups within the community to test and treat non-communicable diseases. Witnessing this first hand was absolutely fascinating.

(An older person from Bugonga Village showing a Dominican University student the way they use dance and singing to promote healthier living and lifestyles)

I’m so thankful I was able to explore these issues in-depth and better understand the barriers that older persons experience daily through HelpAge and my Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship. This opportunity not only provided me with the opportunity to return to Uganda and continue my direct field experience, but I gained deeper insights on how HelpAge is working to address and assist older persons to be recognized more readily around the world and within local and national regulations.

Weeraba, Farewell, until next time.

Collaborative Models: The Value of Life for All

As part of the Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Models Program, Operation Smile hosted training sessions alongside the American Heart Association (AHA) and Help Age International at Operation Smile’s Roma Downey Center in Amman, Jordan, on March 15 -16, 2017.

With support from the Coalition, Operation Smile invited Hilton Prize Laureates to participate with Jordanian and Lebanese health care workers involved in the treatment of refugees. The program featured an AHA training session, which focused on strengthening emergency life-saving skills for healthcare professionals. Participants also had the opportunity to learn about caring for elderly populations and received instruction from experts around psychological first aid during presentations by HelpAge International advisors. Participants, including staff from the Jordanian Ministry of Health, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET), UNHCR, HelpAge Lebanon and HelpAge Jordan, as well as medical volunteers from Operation Smile Jordan, observed an Operation Smile medical mission at a local hospital as well.

Overall, a total of 30 AHA certifications – 29 Basic Life Support (BLS) Provider certifications and one BLS Instructor re-certification – were issued by Egypt-based AHA instructors.

One trainee who received his BLS Instructor re-certification, longtime Operation Smile volunteer and Jordanian emergency room physician Dr. Tareq Househ of Specialty Hospital in Amman, offered insight into the experience:

“As an ER physician, I realized that we look after and care for physically-injured casualties more often. We are not always looking out for post-traumatic psychologically-injured people who may also need a lot of help; especially women, children, adolescents, elderly and people with health conditions, disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The program gave me a new approach for these groups, namely the psychological first aid for patients, including looking and caring for their basic needs and safety, listening to them, connecting them with social support teams, screening them for disaster-related disorientation, and addressing effects on their chronic illness, mainly in the elderly.

The life support program also continued to emphasize supporting life for these groups and the value of life for all. Saving lives by providing high-quality life support and providing psychological first aid for the patient needs and their families are examples of (the Help Age International and Operation Smile/AHA training) programs working together.

I would like to thank everybody who enrolled in the Hilton Prize Coalition and Operation Smile Collaborative Education Program. I enjoyed the combination of the basic life support and the Help Age lectures since both of them support human beings in crisis. The trainers demonstrated professionalism and successfully motivated the trainee to participate. The program was well-organized, professional and friendly.”

Since 2003, Operation Smile has educated more than 25,000 health care professionals in life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills through AHA training programs. According to the AHA, when CPR is administered in the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest, a person’s chance of survival can be doubled or tripled. By providing AHA and other skill-specific training sessions for our international medical volunteers, Operation Smile improves patient safety and strengthens health systems where it works.

(AHA Training participants in Amman, Jordan)

Spring 2017 Fellow: Stefania Doebbel, Covenant House International

Stefania Doebbel recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with Covenant House International (CHI) in New York City, the largest network of shelters for youth experiencing homelessness across North and Central America. Originally from Chile, Stefania recently graduated from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), with a Master’s Degree in International Affairs.

In this blog post, she writes about her experience developing culturally sensitive training curriculum for youth and staff, in Spanish, to foster greater sensitivity and build the capacity of staff service for LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and/or Intersex) youth.


I had first visited Mexico with a team of Columbia University graduate students to assess Casa Alianza’s service delivery for LGBTI homeless youth and help improve their capacities. Casa Alianza, as Covenant House is known in Central America, is the leading youth shelter organization in Mexico and Central America. As part of our initial research, I conducted more than 40 interviews with the organization’s staff.

One client named Gerald often came up in the conversations. Gerald was a 16-year-old transgender girl who had fled her home country, Honduras, where she had experienced persecution and harassment for being LGBTI. While facing the daily dangers of living on the streets, Gerald had begun transitioning from her assigned-at-birth male identity to her female gender identity, taking non-prescribed hormones and injecting silicone in her chest. She had been doing this without the aid or support of any relatives or networks. Finally, she found refuge at Casa Alianza in Mexico City, where she was able to receive shelter and care in a safe community.

Unfortunately, Gerald's case is far from unique. LGBTI youth are often victims of constant violence, discrimination, and victimization. They experience rejection from their communities very often by their own families. Furthermore, there is often limited cultural tolerance for sexual diversity in Central America which can lead homeless LGBTI youth to experience rejection by many shelter organizations.

Casa Alianza has been working hard to address the unique needs of LGBTI homeless youth. After the research I conducted in Mexico with Columbia University, I came back to the organization as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow. In this capacity, I led a wonderful team of practitioners and experts from each of the organization’s sites in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico to develop a training curriculum to provide high quality services to the sexually diverse youth population they host, and also began the process for human-rights-based internal policies that support the full development of LGBTI youth.

I was lucky to travel to Nicaragua during my Fellowship, and spent a week with a selected team developing a detailed and culturally sensitive curriculum that will allow the organization to increase their knowledge and expertise on LGBTI issues. The final curriculum contains four Modules and covers topics such as Basic Terminology, Psychological Development of LGBTI Youth, Anti-bullying Techniques, and Sexual and Reproductive Health, among others. The curriculum is built from the experience of Casa Alianza counselors and the expertise of other well respected organizations working with LGBTI homeless youth.

The ultimate goal is that through this training, Casa Alianza staff across Central America continue to develop a greater understanding of the norms that many times guide our behavior and perceptions, and have the right knowledge and practical experience to give LGBTI youth in need the best chances of developing their highest potential.

(Girls participating in a Pep Rally in La Alianza Guatemala)

The Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship has been an unforgettable experience. It has enhanced my professional development as a human rights international practitioner, has improved my leadership and cross-cultural communication skills, and most importantly, has strengthened my commitment to work for the empowerment of the most vulnerable populations.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the trainings and policy reforms that Casa Alianza is implementing to protect and fulfill the needs of LGBTI youth, working to empower the future of many kids like Gerald throughout Central America.

          (Boys from Casa Alianza Nicaragua starting a running race on a football court in Managua)

Stories from Nepal

April 25, 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal. As the country continues to rebuild, we'd like to take a minute to recognize the communities across Nepal and the 12 Hilton Prize Laureates working in country – BRAC, Clubhouse International, ECPATHandicap InternationalHeifer InternationalHelpAge International, IRC, IRCT, MSFOperation Smile, Partners in Health and SOS Children’s Villages.

This earthquake in Nepal and the ongoing  efforts to rebuild were the focus of the Hilton Prize Coalition's first production under the Storytelling Program. Below is a recap of some of the stories from the past year that have helped us think about effective approaches to disaster preparation, as well as some updates on the work being done today.

FILM: On Shifting Ground
The pilot project highlighted six member organizations that were among those who mobilized in response to the earthquake: BRACHandicap InternationalHeifer InternationalHelpAge InternationalOperation Smile and SOS Children’s Villages. The resulting film, “On Shifting Ground,” has been shown around the world to initiate dialogue around rethinking approaches to disaster response and ways to build community resiliency. Click here to view the film.

Through the production of the film, the organizations gained greater familiarity with one another’s capacities in the region and formed a framework for collaboration that continues to this day. In March 2017, more than 10 organizations met in Kathmandu to establish protocols, building on the lessons learned and their collective experiences in the sector. Read more in this blog post by the Coalition’s Collaboration Coordinator in Nepal, Sumnina Shrestha.

BLOG SERIES: Voices from Nepal
Director Steve Connors, along with members of Storytelling crew, shared insights about their experiences during the February 2016 filming process and beyond, highlighting especially the collaborations that have since taken root.

Part 1: Reminders, by Steve Connors
Part 2: Bringing Together a Wonderful Crew, by Steve Connors
Part 3: This Humanitarian Spirit, by Steve Connors
Part 4: The Beauty of Our Journey, by Rasmi Dangol
Part 5: Returning to Normal, by Amul Thapa
Part 6: A Brighter Future, by Amul Thapa
Part 7: Learning to Be a Child, by Amul Thapa
Part 8: A Ray of Hope, by Sunil Pokhrel

We were also pleased to learn about BRAC’s ELA program in Nepal that is empowering girls today, in this blog post written by Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow Sheetal Tuladhar.

VIDEOS: Leading Thoughts
Hilton Prize Laureate organizations recognize how critical preparation and collaboration between organizations are to effective disaster preparation. Here are two clips from the "Leading Thoughts' series that address how these played out in Nepal. Click on the links or watch them on the Story Wall.

Hilton Prize Coalition and Atlas Corps Gather Emerging Leaders for First Global Changemakers Event

On April 13, 2017, the Hilton Prize Coalition and Atlas Corpsan international network of nonprofit leaders that facilitates overseas fellowships, co-hosted the first Global Changemakers event in Washington, DC. Both collaborative Fellows Programs were celebrated at the event, which brought together the two groups for an evening of networking.

With more than 70 in attendance, the evening consisted of remarks by Atlas Corps and Hilton Prize Coalition representatives, as well as stories from two Fellows, Maxi Salmon and Stefania Doebbel. Guests included staff and partners from both organizations, Fellows from both programs, mentors, and young professionals from the DC area interested in international affairs and nonprofit innovation. The themes of the event, which included the importance of coalition building and the value of expanding networks to create social change, resonated throughout the evening.

Maxsalia (Maxi) Salmon, an Atlas Corps Fellow from Jamaica currently serving at the Council on Foundations, shared her appreciation for the new partnership and the global footprint that will continue to grow from this effort. She shared with the audience reasons why this collaboration is remarkable, saying it is incredibly important that “both initiatives focus on building the next generation of dynamic leaders in the social sector.”

(Maxi Salmon speaking at the Global Changemakers Networking event, April 13, 2017)

Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow Stefania Doebbel shared the impact of her Fellowship through stories of LGBTI youth she met during her placement. At Covenant House International, Stefania is creating culturally sensitive training curricula for staff in Central America that is meant to build the capacity of staff service for LGBTI youth. She also highlighted the influence this placement has had on her professional development, ultimately allowing her to learn more about human rights policies in Central America.

A blog post by Stefania will be published soon on the Hilton Prize Coalition website.

Visit the Coalition’s Flickr album to view more images from the event.

Collaborative Models: Reflections on Working with Survivors of Violence and Torture

In this post by youth psychologist Gabriela Monroy, readers are offered a glimpse inside one of the projects currently being implemented under the Hilton Prize Coalition's Collaborative Models Program. Coalition members Covenant House International and the IRCT (the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) are working together to develop a comprehensive set of materials on issues related to trauma informed care. These materials will be used for training and as reference for healthcare workers and specialists to better understand the effects of trauma and how to approach traumatized youth.

Reflections on Working with Survivors of Violence and Torture
by Gabriela Monroy

I am a psychologist at La Alianza, Covenant House International’s (CHI) safe house for trafficked and sexually exploited girls in Guatemala. I am also the CHI regional coordinator in Latin America for the Hilton Prize Coalition's Collaborative Models Program on trauma-informed care, which is being carried out by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and CHI. I was invited to attend the 10th International Scientific Symposium organized by the IRCT in December 2016 in Mexico City. When I received the invitation, I very much looked forward to the opportunity to learn from survivors of torture and those who work to support them. I knew I had much to learn and much to share. After three days of listening to the presentations and experiences from different countries, I began to realize that in many countries across the globe like mine, “normal” is similar to a war zone where death, torture, rape, abuse and abandonment of children is the norm and life is a continuum of traumatic events. The exception is a moment of human and humane interaction--which is what we strive to accomplish at La Alianza.

At La Alianza, young girls who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation find an environment that offers them the opportunity to finally be treated as human beings, in a dignified, respectful and non-violent way. For some of them, the violence in their lives has been so overwhelming that it can feel traumatic to be treated in such a humane fashion. Using a trauma informed care lens in my day-to-day work as a youth psychologist, I see, after some time of working with them, that the impact on their lives is visible. Society seems so surprised at the transformation that care, affection, and dignified treatment can produce. It is ironic because acting in a humane way should be the most common thing we do as humans, yet it still surprises us even more than the violence itself.

Every single presentation at the Symposium presented the testimonies and experiences of survivors on this continuum of violence and torture as examples of integrity and dignity. This simple reflection on my experience of this symposium hopefully will be a recognition and a homage to their courage and an expression of my respect for each one’s journey and all they have gone through.

When we work with persons who have been tortured or victims of violence without seriously questioning and denouncing the existence of this continuum of violence, we run the risk that our support can become yet another act of violence, even without intending so. And because of this, as professionals and as members of humanitarian organizations, it is necessary to develop an internal alarm system sensitive to this reality.

Also, we need to realize that best practices for dealing with survivors of torture and violence need to be based in respect for their day-to-day experience and respect for the ways they have survived, and if we can recognize this then we may be able to transform the norm that violence has become into the exception. This is my hope. I am grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition for giving me the opportunity to be a witness to such courage.

(Gabriela Monroy, right, with one of her patients at La Alianza in Guatemala) 

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