It is bright and beautiful outside when a young lady walks in looking a little unsure of herself. She introduces herself as Claudine, a Congolese who has come to Kituo to seek help because she feels stressed. There is this sad look in her eyes, beetroot red, sleep deprivation or excessive crying, I cannot tell. In a small voice she says she has been referred to Kituo Cha Sheria by a neighbor who had received counseling here before. I usher her into our office.
This is the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services Department (MHPSS) in case you are wondering, and it is a hub of mental wellbeing. We carry out various activities to help refugees address their psychological problems, and in this case, we are focusing on mind and body wellbeing. I fetch my notebook and pen and sit close to a now relaxed Claudine, ready to listen to her story. Her eyes look tired, she still has a slight slouch to her back but I can tell from the determined look on her face that she is ready to face this.
“I am 28 years old and have been living in Kenya for the past three years. I have been stressed a lot, so I decided to approach you for help. I cannot eat or sleep well. My husband and I ran away from Congo due to outbreaks of violence between different ethnic groups. We were beaten up and I was raped several times. My husband was tortured. We managed to escape and came to Kenya to start a new life. But it is not easy. I am not able to provide for my two children born in Kenya for lack of money, I have troubles sleeping at night because I dream of the things we passed through while in Congo. I keep thinking about it all the time, and I do not feel like going out to meet people. Most times I am afraid to walk alone, fearing that someone might attack me. At times I feel bitter and upset about those people and wish I could take revenge. My body is getting weaker by the day, with constant headaches and joint pains which are more intense when I think a lot. I really don’t know what to do, I wish I could forget everything but it seems impossible.”
All through her narration, I see the pain she feels and the anger welling from within her. I empathize with her and decide to walk her through the journey to recovery to have a success story. As I register her as a client for individual counseling sessions, I explain to her about our mind and body wellbeing group, which focuses on trauma-informed yoga to boost trauma recovery by learning ways to calm down or self-regulate emotions. This is where I spark her interest! So, the mind and body wellbeing support group brings together ten women from the same community who have gone through various traumatic situations.
We take them through an eight-week program with weekly sessions lasting two hours each. The MHPSS team engages a mind and body wellbeing facilitator from Africa Yoga Project (AYP) who takes the women through the sessions. “What is yoga?” Claudine inquires. “Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. In this case we use it as a modern exercise practice which involves holding stretches as a kind of low-impact physical exercise and is often used for therapeutic purposes. Yoga in this sense occurs in a class and may involve meditation, imagery, breath work and music.”
The women are first taken through the basic concepts of the interrelation between the biological, psychological and social aspects in our lives, citing examples from common problems they face and how those affect their bodies and social lives. During these yoga sessions they learn how to identify signs of stress and how to deal with them and help others in the community who need them. Through meditation, they can experience deeper rest on both physical and mental levels, allowing them to gain greater awareness. Meditating every day can bring plenty of benefits – you feel more relaxed, have more energy, savor more enjoyable moments and make you better at handling difficult situations. They learn how to take and be in control of their bodies especially during stressful situations, how to engage in calming exercises and gain a state of stability to tackle issues at hand.
On top of that, refugees are able to make social connections with each other, make friends and establish a support system that lasts even after the group sessions are over. Selfcare during and after the exercises is also emphasized to ensure people do not get hurt or overwhelmed by the exercises. .
“After two months of yoga training at Kituo, I feel so much better. I have found new ways of dealing with stressful issues, I am able to stay calm and relax. I can now sleep peacefully all through the night. I do not keep away from people like before. I now have friends I can relate with, and I am glad I came to Kituo. I am now a very happy person and I have the strength even to look for jobs to take care of my family”, Claudine reports.
Psychosocial volunteer (Kituo Cha Sheria)