In the ongoing and determined efforts to treat survivors of torture and end its use, many can play a role. That is why in addition to providing direct care for survivors, CVT invests heavily in strengthening the capacity of others to do the same.
CVT is the largest international organization treating survivors of torture and advocating for eliminating its use, but we have long acknowledged that we cannot reach every survivor in every community directly. In the past several years, capacity development, or capacity building, has been a growing focus that allows us to work alongside local partners who are essential to our work.
"We are able to share and try new, specific tools for people to heal," said Carlos Aceves, clinical advisor for mental health in CVT’s Helping Survivors Heal program. "It's like opening up a space for how we can improve services for the people. But it's not only with our input, and it's always co-built. Otherwise, it doesn't work."
Capacity development is vital for the field of torture treatment but also goes further to protect human rights and strengthen efforts in adjacent fields. Much of the work includes offering training, workshops and other forms of skills and knowledge exchange to a range of professionals, including lawyers handling asylum cases on the U.S. Southern border, human rights activists advocating for change in multiple countries, and organizations that provide therapy and treatment within their countries, among many others.
Through our capacity development programming, CVT and our allies can better counter policies supporting and enabling torture, as well as address barriers faced by survivors when they are seeking care or asylum. The knowledge and training we share also enhance competencies for caregivers specializing in trauma-informed services, as well as support the work of partners whose important efforts are essential to our shared vision.
These efforts supplement CVT's direct rehabilitative care for survivors of torture by providing partners with knowledge and resources through training, online learning and other innovative methods to develop sustainability, resilience and capacity.
As needs continue, CVT’s work in capacity development has grown in recent years. A significant factor in CVT's attention to this work began from us serving and identifying the needs of people in closely-related fields. This work now accounts for roughly 25 percent of CVT’s total budget and has more than doubled in the past five years.
Capacity development successes
Last year, CVT sent a multidisciplinary team of specialists whose backgrounds spanned mental health, policy and organizational development to the U.S.-Mexico border as thousands of asylum seekers there faced uncertainty.
Through several conversations, CVT found that professionals working in the region experienced burnout, stress and secondary trauma due to a lack of resources in the area. Our capacity development tools helped identify ways to help legal service and mental health workers by offering secondary trauma and resilience training. These participants tell us the support has helped them incorporate self-care and implement resiliency strategies in their work.
By working with a range of local organizations worldwide, Aceves said he also benefits through the exchange of ideas with partners, especially since approaches to training caregivers differ from country to country.
He points to successes in the past through partnering with local organizations providing trauma care in Zimbabwe and Cambodia. These projects, for instance, required CVT to find ways to best collaborate with these groups, while accounting for culture, history and political differences.
“We have to be open to build knowledge together," Aceves said. "In every country, it's a bit different in the ways that people experience trauma or torture."
New approaches to addressing torture and human rights abuses
The COVID-19 pandemic also has increased the need for and importance of capacity development. In 2020, CVT’s clinical programs still managed to reach 60 percent of the number of clients and family members who were helped in 2019. We did this by moving to telehealth and utilizing other innovative programming and technology across the range of contexts in which we work.
In addition, Noor Zada, Director of the New Tactics in Human Rights program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, recalls how her team had developed a new online course just ahead of the pandemic. Prior to its virtual design, the training could only be offered in-person to up to 20 participants, yet opportunities typically attracted more than 500 applicants. Now that it’s online, the team is better able to meet the growing need for these initiatives.
"People see the success, and they really want to be a part of these types of training,” Zada said. "We were able to do capacity building at the same level that we had done face-to-face. We were able to continue our work as if there was no lockdown."
Since launching more than two decades ago to support activists seeking to address human rights violations, including torture, in their communities, New Tactics has bolstered the work of thousands of human rights activists and organizations globally. New Tactics provides intensive training workshops on strategies for impactful activism, gives participants access to resource libraries full of innovative tactics, and hosts an online community to share ideas and glean feedback.
As participants undertake journeys through the workshop and a series of mentoring interactions, Zada commented that it's a lengthy process, not simply one-time training. She said, "So with that comes the ‘after learning’ where we work with the participants on crafting their advocacy campaigns."
New Tactics’ capacity development work was developed for use by a wide range of people in varying contexts, along with clinical interventions for a range of professions –– from workers aiding those who’ve fled their homelands after surviving atrocities, to others working with highly traumatized people, and many others.
“Advocacy doesn't always have the results directly. It's a long process of trying to find out how things can move forward," Zada said. "When you build the capacities of others, they start thinking of other people suffering and advocate for those issues.”
By Youssef Rddad, contributing writer