Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Maria’s Success Story* Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, Sabine Balmir-Derenoncourt

This month the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture celebrated the graduation of one of our client’s from our program. When this Cuban born woman walked into the office she was homeless, lost, confused, alone, in conflict with her family, in need of medication and in desperate need of help. In Cuba, she and some close family members had been diagnosed with mental health disorders. Maria spent a long time in and out of psychiatric institutions. Each time she was readmitted, she was forcibly separated from her family. She stated, “The things they do to you, it’s so hard, it makes you crazy”. According to research, many counter-revolutionaries were involuntarily admitted to psychiatric institutions and forcibly ‘treated’.

Growing up, Maria stated that she was a victim of lifelong persecution.  Her family was internally displaced because of the political activities of her father, and the religious beliefs of the family, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her father was removed from employment and sent to the country side to a forced labor camp. The client was removed from school and employment. She stated that she and her family were constant victims of acts of repudiation.

Each day staff at the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture learn valuable lessons from the survivors with whom we work. They each have a way of impacting our lives and some may mark our hearts forever. Maria worked closely with the program coordinator, Sabine Balmir-Derenoncourt. For a while, she was all Sabine could think about. According to Sabine, at first it was because of the urge that we all have to find a way to help. Eventually it was because she became an example of strength and resilience to follow. The person that walked into the office was unable to trust anything or anyone. However, Sabine built rapport with her and developed trust. She refused the assistance of other program staff and requested to work with Sabine.

Staff at the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture understand that torture survivors often feel as if they cannot trust anyone. The program coordinator adjusted her responsibilities to ensure that she could meet the case management needs of this individual. It took several days, but eventually Maria was persuaded to stay in a shelter. 24 hours after she arrived at the shelter, Maria ran away. She could not bear to stay inside the shelter. The walls around it reminded her of her past. She felt locked up all over again. After days of explaining that the walls were meant to protect her while inside and not to harm her, she accepted to return to the shelter. She promised to call Sabine if she felt the urge to “run” again. And she called. Maria called early in the morning. She called late at night. She called on the weekends and she called during the holidays. Every time she was told:  “wait just a little bit more, this shelter leads to permanent housing, just a little more so you can get your place”.

Together, Maria and Sabine would visualize ‘her’ place and what she would do there. The program coordinator often told her that she could see this survivor drinking a cup of coffee on her sofa, which made the client smile. In November of 2011, after much advocacy from the FCST staff, this client was moved to a supervised subsidized permanent housing. FCST staff celebrated! ! One year later, Maria graduated from the program emotionally, psychologically, socially, and financially stable. She is fully engaged with her church and family. She attends regular group counseling.

Maria has befriended the entire FCST staff. Her graduation was celebrated by all of us. She is missed by Sabine and all of the FCST team.

*name has been changed to protect confidentiality

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