NAIROBI, KENYA – Candy-filled piñatas, face paint and plenty of laughter marked a proud day for 25 children this past weekend. The boys and girls – all survivors of sexual assault – celebrated completing IJM's counseling program with their families, IJM Kenya staff and supporters. The graduation commemorated each child's bravery and recognized each family's commitment to helping their son or daughter work through a painful past.
Trauma-Focused Therapy Restores, Empowers
Each of the graduating children had successfully finished Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) counseling within the last year. The cutting-edge therapy model focuses on helping restore children who have experienced traumatic events such as sexual assault or rape and also works to empower them to move past these incidents.
When the abuse stops, the road to freedom begins – but it doesn't happen instantly, which is why trauma-focused therapy is so important. "It frees them. They are liberated from the irrationalities that would have tied them down otherwise," says IJM Kenya Director of Aftercare, Pamella Masakhwi. "We want the incident to be part of their story, not to become their full story."
"It's a long program," says Pamella. "It's not easy, and so we want to celebrate their bravery within such a long process."
Before a child begins trauma-focused therapy with their IJM social workers, he or she takes a pre-test to assess their level of trauma. Children progress through the stages of therapy at their own paces, and the social workers administer care depending on each child's unique needs. The same test is then given when they complete the program, and most children show significant progress in overcoming anger, depression, anxiety and disassociation.
"The way children come to us and leave is completely different," says one IJM-trained counselor.
While the children will still continue to work through the abuse they've suffered, the graduation celebration gave these children an opportunity to take pride in the progress they have made. Many of the tools they've received during counseling and the support offered by IJM will help lower their risk of re-victimization and deter further abuse in their communities.
The children and their parents have learned how to share their story with others in a way that empowers them and encourages others to stand up against the injustice of child sexual abuse. They have also learned that the effects of abuse and trauma do not have to define the rest of their lives.
The recent graduation celebration lasted all day and included time for games and crafts for the youngest children, as well as group counseling sessions for the parents and graduating teenage girls. "The group session let parents know they weren't alone. Many felt appreciated because of it," Pamella said. The forum for older girls was another chance for them to discuss life skills and learn from one another in an open and safe environment.
IJM supporters from Calvary Chapel of Delaware County -- one of IJM's DIVE partner churches – helped plan activities at the graduation. They spent time encouraging clients and parents throughout the day and participating in many of the fun games and activities. Children scattered across a green lawn – laughing, singing and playing – a testament to the powerful, restorative effects of the TF-CBT counseling method.
Each graduate received a certificate and trophy with their name and a short yet significant inscription: "A very brave person." After the ceremony, the boys and girls held tightly to the trophies, proudly displaying them to family members and in photos.
IJM Kenya staff and contract counselors will continue to support these families as many are still waiting for justice to be done in the court system.