Sunday, February 25th, 2018

A new life for a survivor of torture

Staff & Survivors interviewed by El Nuevo Herald speak of the impact of the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture a program of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the United Nations Fund for Victims of Torture.

“FCST provides linkage to survivors through their network of providers that includes psychologists, social workers, interpreters, lawyers, and medical as well as others.”

The article can be read in English here


Addressing Mental Health, PTSD, and Suicide in Refugee Communities webinar

Refugees face a broad range of challenges that can make them more susceptible to mental health difficulties, including PTSD, depression, and suicide. Awareness of Western medical-based diagnoses is fundamental, but providers must also be aware of the ways that distress is manifested or verbalized by their clients, and feel empowered to provide culturally appropriate treatment or referrals.

The objectives of this webinar are to:

  1. Enhance the capabilities of providers in recognizing and meeting refugee mental health needs,
  2. Assist social service providers in responding to recent increases in suicide attempts in the refugee community
  3. Present indicators, warning signs and prevalence of PTSD, depression, somaticization and suicidal ideation
  4. Present evidence-based interventions for addressing PTSD, depression, somatiicization and suicide

[Read more…]

Strengthening the Congolese Community: Background, Resettlement, and Treatment – Information Guide

Congolese refugees have fled repeatedly over the last 15 years as various rebel groups have added to the unrest. As of January 2013, UNHCR reported over 509,000 Congolese refugees and 56,000 asylum seekers residing outside the country and approximately 2.6 million internally displaced people. Congolese refugees are not new to the US. About 13,000 Congolese have been resettled since 2001 with 65% of arrivals coming in the last four years.

This Information Guide offers some background and practical considerations for preparing for Congolese arrivals. In addition, this information guide offers a one page guide to a trauma informed and culturally syntonic approach to service provision, which assists in de-stigmatizing the Congolese and strengthens your role in helping them to become better contributing and functioning members of the community.

This Information Guide was based on the webinar, Strengthening the Congolese Community: Background, Resettlement, and Treatment, which was originally hosted by NPCT on December 11, 2013.

Download the Information Guide – Strengthening the Congolese Community: Background, Resettlement, and Treatment.

View the webinar.

Download a PDF of the PowerPoint slides here.

The International Rescue Committee has also released a Backgrounder on Congolese Women and Girls. Experiences of Refugee Women and Girls from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Learning from IRC’s Women’s Protection and Empowerment Programs in DRC, Tanzania, Burundi, and Uganda.


Suicide Prevention Resources

Suicides can occur in every community, culture, and country. However, the suicide rate for Bhutanese refugees resettling in the U.S. is nearly three times as high as the average suicide rate in the U.S. according to the International Organization for Migration. In addition, suicide has become an epidemic, especially among youth in Bhutan. The Royal Bhutan Police reported that from 2010 to October 2013, 293 suicides were reported.

Among refugee populations resettled in the U.S., the sense of loss from leaving one’s family and culture, coupled with language learning and employment difficulties can further one’s sense of hopelessness. In addition, the feeling of inadequacy stemming from an inability to provide for one’s family, lessened social support, family and community conflict after resettlement, worries about family in the home country, and difficulty retaining ones cultural and religious beliefs and traditions are also risk factors.

As social service providers, we can effectively assist our clients by educating ourselves on the warning signs, knowing how and when to refer, introducing families to social and education opportunities, and ensuring that clients have someone to help with the resettlement process and the myriad of changes along the way.

In an effort to combat the rising suicide rate among the Bhutanese population in the U.S., the National Partnership for Community Training is pleased to offer the following resources on suicide prevention.


Impact of NPCT TA’s work with mainstream providers: North Carolina to Offer Mental Health Screenings to Incoming Refugees

The National Partnership for Community Training (NPCT) is pleased to report on an NPCT E-learning project developed by course participant, Josh Hinson, a clinical instructor at the School of Social Work and program director of the Graduate Certificate in Global Transmigration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. NPCT facilitates e-learning courses to increase the awareness and ability of mainstream providers to identify and serve refugees who have suffered severe trauma and torture.

After realizing the need for increased refugee mental health screenings upon arrival into the host country, Hinson responded by partnering with Church World Service resettlement staff in Durham, North Carolina to develop a screening procedure. The project will institute a method to identify severe mental health distress in newly arriving refugees and thereby develop a system of care for refugee mental health, including screening and referral to peer support groups, individual therapy, or community-based psychiatric care as appropriate.

Resettlement staff at Church World Service affiliate office CWS-RDU Immigration and Refugee Program will refer clients to Hinson’s project staff who are Masters of Social Work students for an intake screening using the RHS-15. Community Resource Coordinator at CWS-RDU, Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, is thrilled to be able to offer mental health screenings to newly arrived refugee clients. In the past, clients were apprehensive about seeing a mental healthcare provider; however, now that clients have the opportunity to be screened in their homes with an interpreter present, there is a lot more openness to receiving mental health services. Cohen-Mazurowski explains “that many of the clients have received multiple home visits from Josh and his students and that they appreciate the opportunity to share their experiences and to have help in adjusting to life here in the United States”.

The project will use a three-tiered response system: refugees whose screening is below the RHS-15 cutoff will be offered the opportunity to participate in peer support groups; refugees above the cutoff will be offered individual and/or family therapy, and will be assessed for appropriateness for group sessions; refugees whose bio-psycho-social assessment indicates severe mental illness will be offered psychiatric case management and will be assessed for appropriateness for group and individual/family therapy. MSW students who are in clinical training will select and provide the most culturally appropriate, evidence-based, trauma-focused treatment modalities to provide individual, family, and group treatment and/or case management.

Beth Farmer of Pathways to Wellness at Lutheran Community Services Northwest will be contracted for consultation regarding use of the RHS-15. In addition, Hinson’s project will utilize the Health Promotion and Wellness Format, developed by Dr. Richard Mollica and Jim Lavelle at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, as well as Pathways to Wellness’ Community Adjustment Support Group Curriculum.

Hinson attributes NPCT’s E-learning course to providing the opportunity to be immersed in theory and research on best practices with refugee survivors of torture and trauma. In addition, the E-learning course gave him the networking “opportunity to partner with a local refugee resettlement organization and planted the seeds for our current refugee mental health initiative.” NPCT wishes Josh and his students continued success.

NPCT can help your city/state develop similar tools to help refugees who have experienced severe trauma and torture. Please contact us to be a part of the growing network of cities that are working effectively with survivors of torture through the technical assistance provided by NPCT.

Congolese Success Stories

The National Partnership for Community Training is pleased to present some recent success stories of Congolese refugees.

Charlotte Sews for Success in the Micro-enterprise Program

Charlotte Sews for Success in the Microenterprise ProgramCharlotte, a refugee originally from the Congo, is a skilled and trained tailor with more than twenty years experience in the tailoring business in Ethiopia and Congo. She also worked as a  teacher for a United Nations (UN) Sewing Project for Women in Ethiopia. Charlotte was resettled by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Tucson, Arizona in 2008 with her husband and four children. -excerpt taken from ORR




Providing for a Family of Seven

New Licensed Provider:  Violette Kalambayi

Violette is a  refugee who arrived in the United States from the Congo.  Violette is one of our most outgoing and expressive clients to date.  As a Certified Nursing Assistant, starting her own home-based childcare business was a natural fit.  Violette completed many hours of child care business training and passed all county, health and safety inspections perfectly.  She now boasts three enrolled children. – excerpt taken from ORR









Video address: Fidel Nshombo

“I am blessed as a refugee. Blessed as a citizen and I am blessed as a human being and even better I am blessed that I have been given the opportunity to come here after 15 years of tribulations and explore and extend my opportunities. But more better than that I have been blessed to be put in a neighborhood, in a city, where they support me from the bottom up, Boise, ID. From the street vendors who come and listen to me speak my poetry for hours to the governor who invites me to the big conferences. So I want to tell you this; the mayor has given me a space to help refugees, so I want you guys to go in your neighborhood, find the problems that refugees are facing, even though there is no funding, there is no money through agencies to support those programs. Be a volunteer and start that program on your own. Help those people and later if funding will ever be, it will be better, but don’t wait for money to help. Thank you and God bless you.” – Fidel – excerpt taken from ORR


And the winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, Sister Angélique Namaika

Sister Angélique Namaika, a 46-year-old Congolese Roman Catholic nun who has been working with displaced women and girls for a decade in the remote town of Dungu, in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Sister Angélique assists displaced women and girls who have been forced from their homes by armed groups – including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – and helps them to pick up the pieces of their lives.

UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture and The Florida Holocaust Museum
cordially invites you to the Tampa Bay premiere of the documentary
Beneath the Blindfold on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 at 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Click for more information on “Beneath the Blindfold” or to download the flyer

Beneath the Blindfold

Refugee client receives $2,500 as part of Department of Children and Families “Operation Santa Cause’ helping her and her family move after the holidays

Chance Bulingilia

DCF Newsletter on Holiday Wishes Campaign – please see page 6


26 June Global Report Featuring FSCT

Click here to read the Global Report on the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which provides information about the activities that take place worldwide in connection with this June 26th event. FCST is featured on Page 40.


Raising Awareness of the Refugee Experience

When we think about trauma, it’s difficult to imagine the scope of what Pittsburgh’s refugee community has been through. These individuals and families have fled their homes from fear of persecution, imprisonment or death simply because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Many have faced unspeakable and unimaginable acts of torture and trauma. Some enter the United States with little or no education or English, and some have spent their entire lives in refugee camps. Our refugees’ stories can truly make us feel grateful for our freedoms.

Read More

American Red Cross Restores Connection between Siblings Separated by War in Liberia

by Janet McGuire

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 — ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA — The chaos and confusion that accompany war and disaster can separate families when they need each other most. When this happens, the Red Cross joins the search across international borders, offering a unique service to help families reconnect.

read more…


Refugee Voices – Christy

Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, Zakira Causevic

Christy is a refugee from Burma and, along with her family, a client of the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture (FCST). She and her family lived in a refugee camp for 12 years. Prior to living in the refugee camp, they had endured many challenges. In their village, many of their neighbors were forced to serve as porters for the military or pay the military a fine. As porters they would have to march with the military for months and were frequently caught in the midst of battle with rebels. Some of Christy’s family died while serving as porter and others were badly wounded. Christy’s father was forced to serve as a watchman for the army. His role was to alert the military if rebels were approaching, he was later accused of supporting the rebel troops and was beaten and tortured. He eventually fled and hid in the Burmese jungle near the border of Thailand. Three years later, the family was then able to reunite in Thailand.

When they arrived in the United States of America, each member of Christy’s family had a hard time adjusting. Everything was very different than in the refugee camp. Christy struggled in school. She could not graduate because of the language barrier and was referred to a GED program.

Christy and her family were referred to FCST six months after they were resettled. Zakira Causevic was assigned to be their Program Specialist. Zakira assisted the family with education, employment, transportation, interpretation, and the process of applying for permanent residency.

From the beginning of their interactions with the FCST, Zakira noticed that Christy struggled with self confidence. As a client centered, intensive case management program, one of the first interactions Christy had with Zakira was centered around creating Christy’s Master Service Plan, a list of goals she would like to achieve. During their discussions, Christy would give up on herself saying that ‘could not do it’. Zakira explained that she was too shy. Together they set several goals; obtain a driver’s license, enroll in the GED class, and find a job. Although Christy wanted to achieve these goals she continued to state: “I cannot do that.” A volunteer was recruited to the family to help them to learn English. The volunteer also noticed that Christy did not have confidence and tried to be very supportive in helping her build her self esteem. With the help of FCST, Christy made steps to work towards her goals. Each time Zakira saw Christy, she encouraged her and celebrated her successes. Finally, to use Zakira’s words, ‘Christy made it!’

Now Christy has her driver’s license, found a job and is going to school to get her GED! Her new goal is to go to college and become a nurse. Clearly, Christy has gained confidence and self –esteem, and given all of the progress she’s made thus far, Zakira and the FCST staff can envision her achieving her new goals!

Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteers: Helping to Make Group Tutoring a Success

One of the most successful tutoring initiatives for the Refugee Youth and Family Program (RYFP) in Pinellas County has been their group tutoring sessions. Each week our Youth and Family Specialists (YFS) pick up a group of clients after school and bring them to a local library. The Middle School group tends to be smaller, with a manageable number of students, while the Elementary School group consistently has 9 or more students in attendance. The students at the Elementary group range in age and English ability, making it a tough job for the four YFS to manage on their own. Fortunately, we have a number of dedicated volunteers who attend the group each week to help the students receive more one on one attention. Each volunteer has a different experience and different methods of working with the children.

Jan, a St. Petersburg resident who has volunteered with the program since 2010, attends the group each week and typically works with one student. She helps motivate all of the students by bringing rewards such as stickers, note pads, or hair accessories. Jan has been most successful in helping to improve the study habits of one of the elementary students about to make the transition to middle school. When Jan first started working with Alejandro, he rarely focused or stayed on task. She spoke to some colleagues and looked into different techniques which could help Alejandro. Over the next few weeks she tried out these techniques, such as improving focus by rewarding hard work with a break for a story or preventing fidgeting by standing at the table rather than sitting. Some of these techniques made an impact, but what seemed most helpful to Alejandro was that he had someone committed to helping him. Although Alejandro still struggles to focus, he is starting to become more responsible and gets started on his work more quickly than he used to.

Joy, a senior at Eckerd College, started volunteering at the group in fall of 2011 to fulfill service hours for class and enjoyed the experience so much that she chose to continue volunteering. Joy helps in whatever way is needed that week, whether it be helping a small group of two or three students complete their homework or practice their reading or working one-on-one with a younger student while the more advanced students do a group tutoring activity. She also assists by creating tutoring lessons and helping in the office. Joy managed to hide her Spanish speaking abilities from the students for quite a few weeks, pushing the students to use their English as much as possible. Joy is familiar with working with young children because she has a younger sibling. She is aware of the tricks they attempt to veer of topic and she has a special knack for knowing just how to motivate them. The students look up to Joy, seeing her as a positive Hispanic role model.

The group also benefits greatly from the help of Anna, who has volunteered in both groups, in home, and in the office, and Tania, who started volunteering with RYFP just as the group was forming and helps out with collecting prizes for the students. We are lucky to have some new volunteers starting out with the group this year as well. The staff of RYFP is indebted to these devoted volunteers who manage to improve the lives and study skills of the students as they persevere through the chaos that comes with bringing a large group of active kids into the library. The students form a special bond with these volunteers and look forward to their arrival at group each week. If you have an hour or two to spare on a weekday afternoon and are interested in being a part of these groups, please contact the Volunteer Coordinator at or 727-450-7275. We have several group tutoring locations throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough and can always use an extra hand!

*Client’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

World Refugee Day in Tampa Day

Check this awesome video of the Tampa Bay World Refugee Day event last year. Looking forward to another fabulous even this year on June 16th!!

February’s Success Story

Jean is a 15 year-old boy from Haiti. He has been living in this country for a little over two years. He professes to enjoy watching football on TV, playing basketball at the local park with some friends from his neighborhood and learning the art of Haitian cooking from his mother. Jean reports to have had an “O.K.” childhood, but complains that sometimes his father was and is “too strict” on him (Jean’s dad is an ordained minister for a local community church). Jean still recalls how the widespread poverty that he would see in his town and in others when he was a child in Haiti made him dream of living somewhere else. Notwithstanding, some of his favorite childhood memories include playing after school with his friends and going to the beach with his family from time to time. Jean desires to create similar memories in his new homeland, but sometimes is inhibited by his shyness around others and his lack of confidence in his English speaking ability. However, he reports to being ready and willing to meet and make new friends if given the opportunity to do so.

Jean is currently enrolled in our Refugee Youth & Family Program (RYFP) in Palm Beach County, primarily to improve his overall academic performance, with an emphasis on improving his English literacy skills. Program services such as school liaison, ESOL tutoring and homework assistance have been of vital importance to Jean’s slow yet steady progression towards achieving the objectives established for him at the outset of his tenure in the program. Jean has proven to be an attentive and active participant during his tutoring sessions. He displays enthusiasm for the learning material and is visibly engaged throughout the course of the tutoring session. Jean consistently expresses his gratitude for the services being rendered on his behalf, with his strengthening work ethic and dedicated effort serving as further testimony of his appreciation.

It must be noted that Jean has had to face some challenge with his poor reading and writing skills being the foremost obstacles to his English language acquisition. Jean could not relate to early reading material mainly because of his lack of familiarity with the vocabulary. To help increase his general reading skills, Jean’s Youth and Family Specialist began utilizing newspaper articles about local football and basketball teams for their reading exercises. These articles were filled with terms and concepts that Jean was very familiar with thanks to his love for sports. It wasn’t until he was exposed to reading comprehension through the filter the newspaper articles that he began to display more consistent retention of vocabulary and proper pronunciation of the past tense of certain verbs (e.g. passed, jumped). Jean’s increased level of interest in this type of learning activity became immediately evident. Most importantly, he was able to critically analyze the content of the text and discuss the subject matter of the reading from a more informed perspective. His opinions about the newspaper account became more authoritative, as he became more adept at locating information from the text to support his viewpoints. To say that Jean’s reading comprehension ability has dramatically improved in a very short time could be considered an understatement.

At present, Jean is paying more attention to punctuation during reading exercises, and as a result, his reading voice is slowly becoming less monotone. Jean’s speaking is becoming more accurate and his conversational style a little more dynamic, as is demonstrated when giving his opinion about such topics as professional football or local area restaurants. He is almost always in a cheerful mood and arrives motivated and prepared for his tutoring sessions. He has exhibited a growing propensity for conversation that was not readily apparent just a short time ago. Jean has also taken notice of his improvement, which as he now realizes was and is the result of his own effort and concentration. Consequently, this has planted a seed of ambition in his mind. He is currently contemplating the possibility of enrolling in cooking school upon graduation from high school. Although encouraged by his recent positive progress, Jean knows full well that he needs to continue to improve his literacy skills before any future culinary career can be seriously considered.

Through the tutoring assistance and instructional guidance Jean has received to this point, measurable progress has been made. The positive results have been rapidly significant, especially when his initial literacy level is taken into consideration. Going forward, Jean needs to keep improving his English writing skills and become more cognizant of English grammar rules. His effort and determination will also need to remain firm if the positive progress made with his reading ability is to continue. Jean is well aware that his active participation in RYFP and the instructional guidance he is receiving can and will bring about more positive results in the not too distant future.

Jacksonville a strange new world for refugees from Burma

In the past 5 years, they’re outnumbering other nations.
Posted: January 18, 2012
By Matt Soergel

The “CSI” shows are a big hit. “Dancing with the Stars,” too. And hamburgers! What a treat. Football, though? That’s still a mystery, a demolition derby of huge men slamming into each other with few discernible aims.

Read more

Refugee says she was called to help others

She will speak at the International Women’s Day celebration.
Posted: March 5, 2009 – 12:00am
By Deirdre Conner

Few people relish their jobs the way Rachel Obal does.

Equal parts networker, storyteller, social worker and listener, Obal, 57, is a case manager with Lutheran Social Services’ refugee resettlement program. It’s less of a job, actually, and more of a calling – what else could explain why “Mama Rachel,” as most know her, spends her days helping people whose plight she understands intimately and lays awake nights worrying about them?

Read more

Refugee Voices

This month’s success story is about Jon[1].  Jon is a 14 y.o. young man from Haiti who arrived in the United States after the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010.  Jon’s life in Haiti was not easy. He lived with his parents and the sister in very modest conditions. His parents are illiterate, and Jon can barely read in his native language, and he doesn’t know how to write in Haitian Creole. His school attendance in Haiti was sporadic and the educational background was quite week. After the earthquake, the family lost all their belongings, and Jon had injuries requiring hospital treatment in United States.  Jon was enrolled in school shortly after his arrival in the United States and  he had a very hard time adjusting to the American school system without any knowledge of English language and limited literacy in his native language.

Jon was enrolled in our Refugee Youth and Family Program (RYFP) for assistance. RYFP assists students that have been granted the status of refugee, asylee, or Cuban/Haitian parolee with improving their academic success and overall adjustment to life in the United States.  Our goal is to provide refugee youth with the opportunity to build a better future for themselves by providing tutoring services, social/cultural educational activities, and being the link between the school and the parents. In addition, RYFP offers refugee students experiences for developing positive peer relationships, learning about their community through positive out-of-school time activities, and chance to be kids again all the while practicing their English in a safe environment. Jon needed the services of our program because he felt isolated in his new country, and was struggling academically in school. Jon received many of program services and participated in many of the program activities. Jon was part of the program for 17 months.

Jon had to overcome many obstacles to become a success. He had to learn English, learn how to write, and pass to the next grade level. Jon was receiving tutoring and homework assistance on weekly basis from one of our Youth and Family Specialist (YFS) during the 2010-2011 school year. During this time, Jon improved his English language abilities to a point of being able to communicate in English at a very sufficient level.  To encourage Jon’s work with the RYFP tutoring, his school considered it as the extra credit which helped the client to get a passing grade in mathematics and be promoted to the 8th grade.

Jon also participated in many cultural/educational field trips where he had a chance to interact and become friends with the kids from other cultures, witness and learn about the American culture and society, and become more outgoing and less insecure. For example, Jon had a chance to visit the Kennedy Space center and learn about NASA and the American space Program and its achievements.

Refugee Youth and Family Program and Jon’s case manager worked collaboratively with the school to insure Jon’s success. YFS set up regular meetings with the guidance counselor and teacher to discuss Jon’s academics including developing a plan for after his completion of RYFP. With YFS and guidance counselor collaboration Jon was enrolled in many school tutoring activities. He will receive in home tutoring twice a week, ELP tutoring at school every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, starting November;   math and grammar tutoring every Saturday at school, starting in December, and a before class math tutoring every morning if he needs help with math homework. Jon will also continue to attend the Boys and Girls club for positive out-of-school time activities. YFS wanted to be sure that Jon will continue receiving all the help needed to excel academically even after he will no longer will be part of RYFP.

Jon did improve significantly during his participation in RYFP. From a very shy boy who could not say a word in English, he became a more confident young man who is able to express his thoughts in English. This doesn’t mean that he is not facing anymore challenges. He still has difficulties in some school subjects, but his understanding of the subjects and the school system allow him to work on his homework and make better use all the help he receives from his school and the community without the need of additional help from RYFP.

[1] The name was changed for privacy purposes.

Soccer unites refugee children in Tampa Bay

Our Refugee Youth and Family Program was featured on Brighthouse Sports Network. Check it out here!

Community Mapping Project

The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service present the Community Mapping Project Resource Guide: Working with Refugees and Immigrants in Miami-Dade County.

You can view it here.

FCST planted a healing tree on UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture

 Click here to view the full article.

Best, Promising, and Emerging Practices

The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture’s national technical assistance program, the National Partnership for Community Training, wrote and edited a 7-chapter paper on Best, Promising and Emerging Practices in the torture and refugee trauma treatment field.  The work,  “Best, Promising, and Emerging Practices: A Compendium for providers working with survivors of torture” was published as a thematic issue of the Torture journal.

Each chapter focuses on a particular domain  of services – Medical, Psychiatric, Psychological, Expressive Arts, Social Services, Legal and Spiritual – to help both clinical and main stream refugee service agencies provide services that have been identified as effective based on research.

Our goal with this project is to help advance the field of torture treatment and refugee trauma.

The 7-chapter article is available online here, or it can be ordered in hard copy format as well.