An Unexpected Journey in Support of Victims of Torture

Kate Wilson

Technical Advisor

Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. As Kofi Annan once said, this is “an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable.” In honor of this day, I will share with you a little bit about my own somewhat unexpected journey into the incredibly important work of torture and trauma rehabilitation.

I often feel overwhelmed when I watch the news and see headlines about the rise of violent extremism — stories of torture and trauma, recent accounts from Syria or ISIS, and past regimes such as the Khmer Rouge whose destructive legacy still impacts Cambodian society. From where I sit in Washington, DC, I just don’t know how to wrap my brain around it. The fact that human beings can treat one another this way is hard to comprehend, despite the fact that it happens in so many places. It’s too much to handle and I feel stuck. How can I — just one person — make a difference about a problem that is so large, scary and out of reach? So, I am embarrassed to say that even though my heart hurts for victims, I have been more prone to change the channel than take action.

Four years ago, USAID asked the LMG Project to partner with The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) in CVT’s USAID-funded Partners in Trauma Healing Project (PATH). The PATH Project works with 9 independent torture rehabilitation centers in post-conflict countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe to expand their ability to provide high-quality mental health services to torture survivors. The LMG Project works closely with CVT’s Advisors on the organization development components of the PATH project. We work with the leaders of the rehabilitation centers to improve the performance of their work teams and identify opportunities to grow and sustain their missions. With some partners, this has meant helping them diversify their funding or develop a succession plan to cultivate new leaders in the organization. With others, the LMG Project has provided guidance on what successful supervision entails and how to motivate and retain high-performing staff members, despite the emotionally difficult work they do.  

Joseph Dwyer leading a training session.

The partnership has taken me to Cambodia, Kenya, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and the Republic of Georgia where I have worked side-by-side with some of the most inspiring people I have ever known. Each leader I have encountered has a unique and powerful story, both of their own struggle and of their persistence in helping their neighbors heal. I have witnessed the resilience of the human spirit — both among individual survivors and collectively in organizations, where staff band together in the face of limited funding and new crises. From Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia to an influx of refugees in Lebanon, these centers press onward and provide care to those who need it most.

Leaders need more than just commitment and courage. They need practical tools and approaches to inspire their teams, mobilize new resources, take on challenges and achieve results. Many of the executive directors of these torture rehabilitation centers are clinicians and counselors themselves, originally drawn to healing others through the mending of their own sorrows. They are pioneers: founding organizations, building teams, doing their best under very difficult circumstances, but without any formal training in managing an organization. This is where the LMG Project comes in, taking proven leadership and management practices and putting them into the hands of these directors, resulting in stronger finance, performance management, and human resources systems and teams who know how to identify gaps, take strategic action, and improve services to clients.

Large notecards from a management training activity.

CVT and the PATH Project have taught me that even torture is still has a destructive impact on the world today, and I alone will certainly not be able to stop it, that I can have a role in supporting and championing the courageous work of torture rehabilitation centers.

The theme of this year’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is The Right to Rehabilitation. Survivors of torture and trauma everywhere need access to rehabilitation services. It will take more than just well-trained clinicians to get there. We are all in this together to sustain and expand the good work of torture rehabilitation centers around the world.

So wherever you find yourself today, I encourage you to get up, right where you are, and stand in solidarity with the many survivors of torture around the world — half a million of which have resettled in the U.S. alone. Let’s join our voices together, demand an end to torture, and look for the next brave step each of us can take — big or small — to support the work survivors are doing to rebuild and heal their communities.

LMG staff and representative from TPO Cambodia.

What you can do:

Learn more about CVT and some of the PATH partners:

The Center for Victims of Torture

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) Cambodia

Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture

EMPATHY Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims


Get involved:

Volunteer for organizations like The Center for Victims of Torture, Amnesty International.

Join the conversation: Tweet using the hashtags #26June, #RightToRehabilitation, and #TortureFreeWorld. Follow @cvt_staff, @IRCT, and @amnesty.