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Kenya: helping staff and refugees self-heal from trauma
August 30, 2016

Kenya: helping staff and refugees self-heal from trauma
Jesuit Refugee Service staff and refugee counselors are now equipped to also spread the power of self-healing through Capacitar with the hope that the techniques will allow them better serve, accompany and defend the displaced. (Angela Wells/Jesuit Refugee Service)
The body knows how to heal our wounds. Today is not the end of our lives even if life has been difficult something good can come from difficulties.

(Nairobi) August 30, 2016 —  For communities living in conflict, cycles of violence pervade their everyday lives. For many refugees, escaping that trauma and healing psychological scars are incredibly difficult, but are just as important as securing food, medicines and a safe place to stay.

"A large number of people suffer from some level of traumatic stress due to natural disasters, accidents, domestic abuse, political violence and from the secondary trauma of living in a violent world. In some places whole societies suffer from intergenerational trauma because of their violent histories, structures and institutions," wrote Dr. Patricia Mathes Cane, the founder of Capacitar — a trauma healing technique that gives people simple told to heal and transform themselves.

Since beginning in Nicaragua 28 years ago, the practice has spread to 45 different countries. 

Capacitar, meaning to empower in Spanish, was designed to subside suffering among populations who have undergone serious trauma, stress or compassion fatigue by helping people to manage their emotions, control their energy levels, relieve physical and emotional stress, and transform cycles of violence. 

In mid-August Jesuit Refugee Service hosted Capacitar trainer Sister Geneviève in Kakuma refugee camp, in northern Kenya, and here in Nairobi to teach Capacitar techniques to dozens of local and refugee staff. Sister Geneviève is a member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and has been teaching the technique since 2005 when she moved to Rwanda to work with genocide survivors. 

Since then, the nun and medical doctor has travelled to dozens of African countries teaching Capacitar to more than 5,000 people including social justice activists, former child soldiers, emergency relief workers, police and UN staff working in conflict zones, sexual violence survivors, refugees, and conflict-affected communities.

Capacitar exercises focus on releasing negative energy and stress, stretching the body, therapeutic breathing exercises, renditions of Tai Chi, and other physical exercise. 

"The body knows how to heal our wounds. Today is not the end of our lives even if life has been difficult something good can come from difficulties. When we manage our stress we can heal. When our energies are blocked we have a lot of pain, confusion and emotional instability. We instead need to become interconnected with the energy of the world, because our bodies, minds and souls are all interconnected.

"God created us wonderfully. We all have the potential to heal ourselves, we just need to learn and then teach others," Sister Geneviève told refugee peer counsellors in Nairobi reached community leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia.

Many of the students Sister Geneviève has taught go on to teach their families, friends and especially those they serve in their daily work. After one training in South Sudan, for example, her students went on to teach the exercises to another 1,500 people. 

The JRS staff and refugee counselors are now equipped to also spread the power of self-healing through Capacitar with the hope that the techniques will allow them better serve, accompany and defend the displaced.

Capacitar reminds change makers around the world that self-healing is the first step to changing the world.

"We need to learn, individually and collectively, how to live with wisdom, balance, and compassion in the midst of struggle. And we need to commit ourselves to change and transform unjust and violent systems that no longer serve the human family," writes Dr. Patricia Mathes Cane.

Angela Wells
JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer



Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
christian.fuchs@jrs.net
202-629-5946