Training local NGOs to help them build stronger relationships with the individuals they are trying to help

The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) trains Indonesian NGOs in counseling skills and awareness of the impact of torture so that they can develop relationships based on trust, compassion, and caring with the victims of torture with whom they work. 

The provinces of Aceh and Papua in Indonesia have suffered enormous human rights violations at the hands of the Indonesian government and oppositional pro-independence groups. Both parties are very reluctant to admit to the use of torture. Indonesian NGOs have tried their best to bring human rights abuses cases to light in order to shame the government and independence groups and to prevent them from committing such violations again. This strong focus on advocacy means that NGOs sometimes lose sight of the experiences of the victims they work with. They may push the victims too hard to try for redress without regard for their needs or rehabilitation because they are simply not trained to look at the issue from a victim’s perspective.

After a targeted needs assessment that revealed this issue, ICMC began training courses for seven local NGOs in Aceh and six in Papua. The training focused on seven issues:

  • awareness on torture: its definitions and aims;
  • consequences of torture;
  • needs of torture survivors;
  • basic counseling skills;
  • documentation of torture;
  • counseling torture and trauma survivors;
  • monitoring client improvement.

The ICMC also created a small grants program to fund the work of the Indonesian NGOs. The first two-day training session focused on awareness on torture, the aim and mechanism of the ICMC Survivors of Torture program, and criteria for the disbursement of small grants. After this initial training session, interested NGOs submitted proposals for the grants.

In addition to the small grants program, many NGOs asked ICMC to provide intensive training in counseling skills for working with torture survivors. Consequently, ICMC arranged a five-day counseling training course to take place in the two provinces. In order to provide closer supervision and support to NGO partners who underwent the counseling skills training, the ICMC team subsequently conducted monthly two-day follow-up workshops in Aceh and Papua. These workshops functioned as a forum for NGOs to share their experiences and to learn from each other. Based on the needs identified during the follow-up workshop sessions, ICMC created advanced training programs in mental health issues associated with torture and trauma. In addition, the program has also set up an email list-serve by which trainees from different regions can share their queries and initiate discussions on the counseling of torture survivors, moderated by ICMC staff.

Part of the ICMC training program included learning how to document torture in a systematic and comprehensive manner.  This documentation process includes information on why and how the torture occurred, as well as when and where the torture happened. Following this international standard means the local NGOs’ work is more likely to be recognized and used by the international community.

ICMC’s work has enabled local advocacy NGOs to build relationships with victims of torture based on trust and caring, while counseling has increased the victims’ willingness to be involved in some form of legal prosecution against the human rights perpetrators.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

On significant aspect of this tactic is ICMC’s use of a targeted needs assessment to identify the problem. Organizations should be aware that the most pressing problems facing a community may not be obvious and that a needs assessment may be necessary in order to best implement a program and allocate resources. The ICMC also did a good job following up on the project. In most cases, one intervention will not be enough to solve a problem, so regular supervision and support of partner NGOs is important. One concern that an organization should be aware of before implementing this tactic in another context is the financial aspect of the training. Planning and facilitating a training session takes money, and an organization must be aware of the costs that these activities will incur.