Healing and Finding Dignity after Abuse
Working to heal emotional wounds
By Veronica Agali, Gender-based Violence Case Manager, International Medical Corps
As a gender-based violence (GBV) case manager for International Medical Corps in Wau, South Sudan, my job is emotionally exhausting and, at times, even dangerous.
I run a 24-7 hotline people can make confidential calls to and report cases of abuse, including rape and sexual assault.
I respond to the calls, track down the survivors and make sure he or she receives medical treatment. I then work to heal emotional wounds through counselling and other services.
One day, I received a call through the hotline.
“Vicki, there is a case that was beaten by her husband in the camp and she can’t walk,” the caller said. “We need you.”
I rushed to the camp, now home to more than 30,000 people who have sought refuge from the civil war. The conflict broke out in Juba in December 2013 but has since spread across the country. I went to a shelter, looking for the woman I had been told about over the phone. Without luck, I looked for her all day in the camp. I could not sleep when I went to bed that night.
I went back to the camp the following day and eventually found her, sitting down in front of her shelter. I greeted her, but she could not even lift her hand to greet me. She had been beaten so badly she could barely move, let alone walk. When I asked what happened, she broke down sobbing. We had only just met, but I held her as we cried together. I just wanted to show her love and that she is not alone.
Once she calmed down, she told me that her name was Sophia and that her husband had left her for another woman; he refused to help her including the sons in any way. One day, when Sophia asked him for some money to buy sugar, he accused her of following him and beat her until she collapsed.
“How can a person you love in just a second turn against you?” she said to me. “People had to lift me up from the ground and take me back to my house. This is how you are seeing me, Vicki.”
I told her she was safe and that I believed her. I slowly realised that the shock of her husband turning into a “beast” had caused the collapse. She had no physical injuries that required medical attention but she was in need of trauma healing. I rushed to the women-friendly space that International Medical Corps runs in the camp, with funding from UK Aid, and grabbed a dignity kit. It contains basic essentials for vulnerable women. I returned to Sophia’s shelter and handed her the kit. “This is a small gift,” I said. “I know it is not much, but it‘s the least that we can do in these kind of situations.”
She embraced me, thankful for the gift, and cried again. “No one cares about me, Vicki,” she said. “Even now I feel like killing myself, like committing suicide. It is better that I die than live like this. My two boys are looking at me not doing anything. I used to be strong, feeding them. Now who is going to feed my children?”
I made it my mission to show Sophia that she was still strong including to restore the dignity that was taken from her.
I visited Sophia every day; we did strength-building exercises together in order to get her mobility back. I also asked some women at the women-friendly space to visit Sophia every day to assure she had gone to the toilet and that her shelter was clean. They also help her reach the centre, so that she could interact with other women and participate in the handicraft-making activities that we run.
The women did exactly that. Slowly, Sophia began to recover physically and emotionally. Within two months, she was able to walk with a cane. After four months of daily care and training, Sophia no longer needed the cane. She could walk to the centre by herself.
I will never forget the day she arrived to the women-friendly centre without her cane. All the women shed tears of joy. Sophia also cried - overwhelmed by what she had overcome.
Today, Sophia is one of the most active women in our centre; she loves to dance with the other women. She participates in drama activities and campaigns against violence. International Medical Corps also assisted her in starting a small bakery business. The small income enables her to take care of herself and her two sons. Whenever we have visitors in the centre, Sophia shares her story, saying that if it were not for our intervention, she would not be alive today.
I always tell Sophia, it was her own inner strength that made recovery possible. We just helped her find it again.
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