Building Worldwide Capacity for Torture Rehabilitation

© 2012 Alma Mujanovic, Courtesy of Photoshare

By Kristi Rendahl, Organizational Development Advisor, The Center for Victims of Torture

“Torture rehabilitation” is not a phrase in most people’s vernacular. Yet, it is the core of our purpose at The Center for Victims of Torture. For 30 years, we have worked to address the mental and physical effects of torture and trauma on people around the world. We do this work because we believe in the potential of individuals, their families, and their communities to recover and rebuild their lives.

One of the ways we fulfill our mission is through capacity building of other torture rehabilitation centers, including the USAID-funded Partners in Trauma Healing Project (PATH), which works with nine torture rehabilitation NGOs in post-conflict countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. These centers applied to be part of the project in order to improve their mental health service capacity, monitoring and evaluation skills, and organizational development efforts.

As the Organizational Development Advisor, I work primarily with the executive directors of these organizations. Many of them are mental health professionals by training and founders of their organizations, and are among the most courageous and passionate people on the planet. The spectrum of organizational needs is vast and resources are scarce, yet they keep showing up with their best each and every morning.  The executive director of TPO Cambodia, our partner organization in Phnom Penh, earned a Ph.D. in psychiatry by conducting research to develop the Cambodian construct for PTSD, which he named “baksbat,” the Khmer term for “broken courage.” This is an elegant way to describe the effects of torture on individuals, communities, and entire societies.  Our work and support to the centers aims to allow them to effectively and sustainably meet the needs of their societies.

By partnering with the USAID-funded Leadership, Management & Governance Project, we offer tailored support in organizational development to the directors, as well as their staff members and boards of directors. Since most of the organizations were founded during times of crisis in their respective countries, directors strive to honor those roots, while creating systems and processes that will contribute to sustainability well into the future. 

Organizational development is fundamentally about improving an organization’s effectiveness. In the PATH project, and through the partnership with the LMG Project, we collaborate with torture rehabilitation centers to promote change and solve problems in ways that will result in better outcomes for torture survivors. That, at the end of the day, is why we’re all here.

CVT and the LMG Project use different tools and approaches depending upon the needs of each center and their existing capacity.  For example, at CVT’s partner workshop, all the partner organizations used MSH’s Challenge Model to formulate visions and action plans, primarily regarding monitoring and evaluation, to inform their clinical work. At Vive Žene in Bosnia & Herzegovina, their vision was to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation systems that provide information about the impact of their work, and their measurable result was that 30% of beneficiaries would have a follow–up assessment within the following six-month period. After developing and implementing protocols for the therapists, Vive Žene reported success in reaching their goal to conduct follow up assessments for one third of patients, thereby improving services. Therapists say they now have a sense of their progress beyond just the number of services provided. The organization has since adopted the Challenge Model for use with other challenges.

We used the MSH Program for Organizational Growth, Resilience and Sustainability Tool (PROGRES) with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa to conduct a collaborative capacity assessment to identify their organizational development priorities for the coming years. CVT and the LMG Project also worked with Vive Žene in Bosnia & Herzegovina and RCT/Empathy in Georgia to establish performance management processes through the adaptation of an employee handbook, guide to supervision, and performance review process.

By strengthening the organizations that serve these people, we ensure that while courage may be broken, or ‘baksbat,’ it is not lost forever.