Captured by rebels, bound at the wrists and feet, beaten, dragged and interrogated for information, Fatmata experienced first hand the evils of war and lived to tell the tale. On that day in 1998 she experienced torture and the effects of her ordeal linger to this day.
Fatmata’s story is not unique in Sierra Leone, or around the world. It is a story that can be repeated by the innumerable victims of the violence, pain and suffering systematically directed to extract information or confessions by those with power over the powerless.
She feels bad, confused and discouraged and has trouble sleeping. She can’t put the events she experienced behind her. Only through ongoing the counseling, encouragement and support she receives at the Center for Victims of Torture is she able to feel “alright”.
June 26 is World Day Against Torture and this year was celebrated in Sierra Leone by the Center for Victims of Torture in events across Freetown at Calaba Town, Victoria Park and Aberdeen village.
The celebrations were held to remind Sierra Leoneans that because of the difficulty of putting the acts committed during war in the past it is vital to remember the experiences and deal with the issues in the present. Only then can victims of torture and the nation as a whole move on to a brighter future.
“The war has stopped now, but the aftermath lingers,” said Katia Verbiest, Clinical Psychologist with CVT. “We are working specifically with torture survivors. There is a big need for organizations like ours, with the services we provide.”
CVT provides psycho-social mental health care services including individual and group counseling sessions and recreational and social activities for those still suffering from the effects of the war. “Some people have difficulty taking up their lives again. A lot of people have trouble moving on. Trauma affects people in different ways. We see depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation”, she said.
The Center for Victims of torture currently has between 200 and 250 clients in Freetown, but has helped thousands of people through their work in the provinces since 1999. According to Ms. Verbiest there is a still a need for this type of work, and for more counseling centers, as most people in Sierra Leone are not aware that they can seek assistance.
Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Handicap and War Child were among the few that provided psycho-social services to Sierra Leoneans, but they have since pulled out or changed their focus. CVT remains one of the few places that victims of torture can find help.
Fatmata, when asked what she would tell someone who had experienced a similar event during the war, said, “I would tell them that CVT has helped me, and that they too can be helped. Help needs to extend to all the victims across the country.”