International Communities of Healing
TASSC’s International Communities of Healing (ICOH) are spaces where survivors gather and work together to help each other heal. Community self-empowerment is an important part of overcoming the experience of torture. TASSC provides a forum to support that process through the International Communities of Healing.
FAQ about International Communities of Healing
Q. What are TASSC’s International Communities of Healing (ICOH)?
A. The ICOHs are TASSC’s-sponsored survivors’ groups in the US and foreign countries. ICOHs are interaction sites where torture survivors come together to create a healing bond which transcends nationality, ethnicity, gender, class, ideology, sexual orientation, and religion.
Q. Why did TASSC introduce this Program?
A. TASSC recognizes that the population of torture survivors is both vastly under- and often misserved by the traditional western therapeutic models for treatment.
Q. But aren’t there treatment centers that specialize for the treatment of torture survivors?
A. Yes, there are twenty-four treatment centers in the US and seventy-five world-wide. However, the treatment center approach is not the only path which may be taken for survivors. TASSC believes that survivors working collectively can take their healing into their own hands.
Q. So, TASSC does not believe that treatment centers can be vital to the healing process of survivors?
A. Yes; in fact, TASSC works closely with a number of treatment centers.
Q. If treatment centers are that important why do you need ICOHs too?
A. Just think for a moment. There are only a handful of treatment centers here and abroad. Yet torture is practiced by more than 150 governments today. It is estimated that over half a million torture survivors reside in the United States alone. Even if conventional treatment were the best or only way to treat survivors, there are not enough centers to do so. This is one of the reasons why TASSC created the ICOHs.
Q. Well then, what are the other reasons?
A. First, remember that survivors come from many different cultures and some are unfamiliar with or made uneasy by Western style therapeutic treatment. For some survivors, the treatment center approach is not always effective. Second, some survivors recount the participation of mental professionals in their torture. These survivors believe that psychotherapy would be detrimental to their well-being. Third reason is that TASSC has found that survivors coming together in community can serve as healers for one another, no matter what their cultural backgrounds may be.
Q. What are the effects of torture that make the ICOHs so important ?
A. Many survivors are like lost ships on the ocean—no where to go and no one to turn to for support and assistance. Torture does not affect every survivor in the same way. Some, for their own survival, may choose never to speak about their experience; others actively seek support. Never forget, torture leaves no part of the survivor’s life untouched. For many, we “re-enter” a world that is completely different from the one we experienced before we were tortured. Trust in one’s self and in others is broken. Fears become our constant companion. Memories and flashbacks arise at any given moment. Therefore, trust, dignity, a sense of belonging, safety, and understanding are central to the healing process.
Q. What does TASSC hope to accomplish with the ICOH’s?
A. Through these ICOHs, TASSC seeks to provide a safe forum for survivors. They may share their own experiences and rebuild trust in others, in community and in the human family. In ICOHs survivors come together to create a healing bond which transcends so much of what separates us in daily life: nationality, ethnicity, gender, class, ideology, sexual orientation, and religion. In assisting in the healing of others, they come to experience the healing process in themselves.
Q. How do the ICOHs work?
A. No two ICOHs are the same. They have been described as interaction sites or communities without walls. Survivors come together physically, psychologically, and spiritually in forms of their own choosing. Each group sets its own agenda as to the frequency, timing and content of their collective work. One of the results is that survivors are empowered to lead and develop strong voices in the international campaign to abolish torture. Some examples of these Communities include :
Two survivors taking a self-defense class motivated by a sense of self-empowerment and a feeling of greater safety in their environment .
Survivors who are engaged in advocacy (e.g. visiting their local Congress members to call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act) .
Survivors who come together to discuss immigration related problems that have affected them .
A group of survivors creating a soccer team.
A group of survivors coming together to support a fellow survivor who may be experiencing a crisis.
Several survivors taking an art class together to find ways to express their fears and hopes.
Q. How do the ICOHs participate in TASSC’s mission to abolish torture?
A. At the most basic level, survivors contribute by refusing to allow their torturers to achieve their goal of destroying them. The survivor, who rises each morning to face the challenges of the day, is also confronting his torturer saying, “You did not destroy me. I am alive and I am an active member of the human family.” On another level, ICOHs help many survivors reach the point where they wish to confront their torturers in a variety of other ways:
Some survivors may chose to participate in TASSC’s Truth Speakers program, which provides a forum to speak publicly about their own torture and the collective responsibility of the global community to work towards the abolition of torture wherever it is practiced .
Other survivors have sought justice by filing charges against those who tortured them .
Others participate in the many activities each June that comprise TASSC’s annual Torture Awareness Month .
Some survivors have written books and articles on the subject .
Other survivors have participated in documentaries and media interviews .And there are survivors who have testified before Congressional Committees.
Q. Where are the ICOHs located?
A. Communities of Healing are located in a dozen different cities in the United State and in many countries around the world. Each year, TASSC invites members of these communities to participate in June Survivor Week for a series of human rights trainings, public forums, congressional visits, and public vigils to commemorate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26. In recent years, survivors of TASSC have come from Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico in Latin America; Cameroon, DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda in Africa; Baharain, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Syria in the Middle East; and Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Phillipines in Asia and the Pacific.
Q. TASSC says that there are untold numbers of torture survivors world-wide. Why are there so few ICOHs?
A. TASSC wishes it could create ICOHs in every state and country in the world, wherever there are survivors. Unfortunately, we are limited by staff size and funds. But TASSC assures you that we are trying and stretching both the staff and our funds to the limit (and a little beyond).
Q. Well, has the program been a success?
A. Yes, it has been successful, as measured by the number of survivors joining existing Communities and the requests for establishing new Communities at other sites, yes, the program is a success. We at TASSC wish you could meet some of those who have participated in this program. When they first come to TASSC, they are withdrawn, uncommunicative, isolated, and questioning whether there is any reason to continue to live. One survivor said when he first came to TASSC that he simply sat in a chair and cried. We know the ICOHs are successful. We see the survivors’ days, weeks, and months later smiling, dancing, able to work, and becoming part of their new-community.
Q. Are the ICOHs intended only for torture survivors?
A. Yes, but survivors frequently invite new friends, families in the homes where they are living, and others to become Friends of TASSC. As Friends of TASSC, non-survivors can join survivors at certain gatherings and play a major role in the healing process.
Q. Let’s say, that I am a survivor. I live in a state or country where there are other torture survivors, how could we establish an ICOH?
A. Just contact TASSC and we will be more than happy to assist you.
Q. I am not a torture survivor but I would like to offer support to an existing ICOH, how do I go about this?
A. There are several ways. You can invite a survivor to speak to your group or organization. If you have a spare room in your home, you might offer temporary hospitality to a survivor. You might assist a survivor in his or her job search for employment. You might consider making a donation to a local ICOH. You might tell others about our program and invite them to learn about it. For other ideas of how you might support ICOHs, please contact us (see contact information at the bottom of the page).