Boston Center for Refugee Health
&  Human Rights Newsletter
In This Issue (Click on Title)
A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing
America, What Makes You Tick?
Helping Clients Get Back to Work
Renewal & Celebration Unite Cameroonians
Brush & Palette Prove Mightier than Sword
Our Mission
The Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights is committed to improving the health and quality of life of refugees and torture survivors through a holistic model of health care provision coordinated with legal aid and social services, training, advocacy, and research.  
We are currently recruiting volunteers to help with our Refugee Patient Navigator Program, English Language Training, and Employment Services.
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Top July 2009
Greetings! This newsletter is dedicated to the celebration of the anniversary of the June 27, 1987 entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture. A widely observed and cited document, the Convention has been ratified by 65 countries and signed by 16 more. Despite this, however, the use of torture remains widespread throughout the world and perpetrators are still frequently shielded by their governments, including our own in the U.S. In commemoration of this 22nd anniversary, we seek to keep ourselves and our audience informed about torture and related issues currently playing out in our local and global communities. We ask our government and our representatives in the UN to live up to their promise to, "take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction...No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." (UN Convention Against Torture, Part I, Article 2, Sections 1-2).

We hope all of you are enjoying your summers and thanks for joining us!

 A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing
On June 25th, BCRHHR hosted their fifth annual June Gala. 'A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing' is held each year to honor the United Nations declaration of June 26th as the International Day to Support Victims of Torture.  Staff at BCRHHR view these individuals as survivors, rather than victims, and as the BCRHHR has helped many of those who have endured persecution and torture, we use this day to remember the past but also to rejoice in present triumphs. What better way to show the resilience of humanity than sharing the celebratory spirit with the people who are the symbols of resilience itself. 
The evening featured presentations including a heartfelt poetry reading from a BCRHHR client about her faith in America and her gratitude for providing a safe haven for many refugees and asylees. There were inspirational speeches from guests such as Emile Kamadeu, an asylee from Cameroon (pictured at left) who shared his story with the audience as a emile pictestament to the difference the Refugee Program made in his life. Sarah Ignatius, Executive Director of the PAIR project, reflected on the importance of remembering the past as a key to future when the stories of noble survivors become interwoven into the lives of their children.  Joshua, a BCRHHR client and activist, shared his thoughts about the role of youth on the front lines of the fight for human rights.  He stated "my goal for the future is to see all the youth involved in policy making processes at all policy levels to promote democracy and the rule of law. We the youth are not leaders of tomorrow, we are leading today."

One highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Annual Obuntu Award to Rita Kantarowski, former Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee, for her passionate work and selfless dedication to Refugee families in Greater Boston and beyond.  Obuntu is a Zulu word that means the "the essence of being human" (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Obuntu recognizes that all people are interwoven and interdependent -- a central theme of the night, as survivors from all over the world come together to share their rich cultural traditions.

Certificates of Appreciation were presented to Megan Wulff and Danielle Delosh of the Boston University School of Public Health's Health and Human Rights Caucus for their contribution to BCRHHR clients over the past several years.  The HHRC sponsors an annual coat drive and has raised needed funds for the Refugee Program.   
Finally, guests wearing elaborate traditional costumes participated in a fashion show.  They proudly presented their costumes to the audience while cat walking to the beats of Ugandan drummers. They were joined shortly thereafter by members of the audience who could not resist the urge to move to the music. The spirit of the night, though joyous and relaxed, was a testament to the obligations that all human beings have to one another to celebrate and accept all of our differences with the knowledge that, deep down, we are all the same.
~Kerry Daigle
BCRHHR Volunteer

 America, What Makes You Tick?
America, you were blamed for trading in slaves.
What other price would you have paid,
Which would be more than electing an
African American President?
Proving to the world what true democracy is!
 America, a powerful nation you are!
Quieting the nations that oppress other nations or countries,
Liberating innocent people from all over the world that are denied freedom.
Bringing all nations together.
Your hospitality is beyond measure,
Opening your doors to visitors from all over the world-
Not minding the colour or race.
Knowing that we are all one, one in God's Family.
Giving financial and material help
To countries at war and to poor countries.
America, that is the reason God has blessed you!
~Written by a BCRHHR Client

Beyond Mental & Physical Rehab:
Helping Clients Get Back to Work

The BCRHHR has provided Vocational Rehabilitation services to refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers since 2001.  We help them to choose, get, and keep gainful employment while addressing the difficulties involved in adjusting to a new environment and vocational focus. Many people using Vocational Rehabilitation services are also simultaneously dealing with psychological and physical challenges resulting from torture or trauma. In fact, 75% of clients engaged in Vocational Rehabilitation at BCRHHR are either survivors of torture themselves, or have a family member who suffered persecution and torture.
The effects of torture, whether emotional or physical, in addition to the trauma of fleeing to a new country, can impede on someone's ability to be as successful at work as they would like to be, or once were in their country of origin. For example, imagine working at a shopping mall where you are surrounded by security guards in uniform patrolling for shoplifters; if you were tortured by someone in uniform, the image of these guards could cause you to feel anxious and experience flashbacks. These symptoms could lead to making a mistake while counting a customer's cash or cause you to feel distracted while at work. Alternatively, imagine that you were tortured because of your profession in your country of origin. Maybe you were a doctor who provided HIV tests to women without their husband's consent, or a professor who taught a lesson that your government did not agree with - these are common occurrences and can leave people feeling very confused about whether or not they want to continue in their profession in the United States.
At BCRHHR, we make it a priority to help people overcome the barriers they face to gainful employment because we recognize how beneficial work can be to one's recovery process. In fact, The World Health Organization states that  "The workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of workers and in turn the health of their families, communities and society. It offers an ideal setting and infrastructure to support the promotion of health of a large audience." [1]
As we celebrate the signing of the UN Convention Against Torture, it is important to think about the impact torture has on people's careers and how we can help survivors to continue to develop professionally in the U.S. after the total disruption caused by fleeing their homes and resettling in Boston.
~Corey Simon, MA
Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, BCRHHR 
For more information on Vocational Rehabilitation services at BCRHHR and affiliated agencies, please contact Corey Simon, Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist at (617) 414-4338 or [email protected].   
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[1] From (Accessed 6/10/09)
Renewal & Celebration at Cameroonian Community Festivities
On June 13th the Cameroon Social Club (CAMSOC) held an "All Cameroon Cultural Day" celebration in Saugus. The celebration drew close to 600 people from over 15 tribes of Cameroonian ancestry. The guests arrived dressed in their finest--women in their pagnes (sarongs) with uniquely crafted headdresses, and men in their boubous (cotton garments) (1). The entranceway was filled with folk art objects including carved masks, statuettes, woven baskets, and various pottery pieces.  The night comprised of introductions of notable guests (of which BCRHHR was one), libation rituals (blessings before meals to thank the ancestors), and an elaborate dinner of traditional Cameroonian cuisine. The remainder of the night was devoted to exhibitions of dancing and fashion, with each different tribe performing their own unique cultural expressions.

Truly, this event was a joyous and exciting time for the attendees. Representatives from BCRHHR and the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project (PAIR) were present at the celebration and recognized many faces of those who have walked through our doors for help with immigration and asylum affairs, health care, and various social services. Many sought our assistance having faced traumatic and violent histories, and currently experiencing desperate and unstable living situations here in the United States. On this night, however, these same faces were full of smiles and elated emotions. They rejoiced at reuniting with friends and family, and also built new connections with those they did not know. The celebration poignantly demonstrated the unity of the Cameroonians living in the Boston area, especially since the majority of them emigrated here to escape persecution and violence from the infighting occurring in their homeland.
As health care and legal providers, we often see people in the context of our workplaces, and focus on them as patients and survivors. We easily forget that they can be both as special and as ordinary as the rest of us, capable of building friendships, raising families, and enriching their communities. To fully understand and appreciate the people we assist, it is essential that we see them in their own environments. Thanks to the warm invitation of our friends at CAMSOC, a few of us were able to witness and experience the transformation of our clients into spirited individuals of a diverse but united community.
In addition, we have come to know and establish a relationship with an organization that is not only comprised of many we have helped, but which is also dedicated to providing a social network for those in the Cameroonian community. One of BCRHHR's primary goals is to "honor the importance of community as a vehicle of healing and recovery," and this event and the various outreach events we have attended throughout the years have been instrumental in carrying out this work for survivors of torture and war trauma (2).
~Julie Park, Research/Administrative Assistant

1.      Mbaku, John Mukum. Culture and customs of Cameroon. Westport CT: Greenwood
            Press, 2005.
2.      Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights.  Retrieved June 19, 2009, from

Special thanks to Emile Kamadeu, web designer and PR assistant at the Cameroon Social Club, for his contribution to this article.

Brush & Palette Prove Mightier than Sword
In some circles, the term 'art therapy' may commonly have some connotation of impractical whimsy; in actuality, this professional field combines human development, psychology, and clinical practice with multicultural and artistic traditions, offering survivors of torture and related trauma an innovative set of tools with which to cope and recover from their experiences. [1]  Art therapy has been employed successfully in countless forms and contexts -- if you've ever had the pleasure of visiting the offices of BCRHHR at the Boston Medical Center, you may remember the brightly-colored mural on the waiting room wall. Sprawling across two wooden panels, it depicts a village scene populated by a diverse range of figures: humans and animals; men, women, and children; people praying, drumming, boating, dancing, and going about other everyday activities. Two figures in the piece, uniformed and toting guns, lend a somewhat ominous tone to the mural, but overall, the scene is simply a snapshot of the hundred different daily events unfolding side-by-side within a small riverside community.

This is as it should be, according to artist Nelson Da Costa, who used his time and expertise in order to guide seven BCRHHR clients in the creation of this mural, a project which was funded by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and came together over a three month period in 2006. With some basic background design sketched by Da Costa, the seven artists-in-training had the freedom to suggest and execute their own ideas. Towards this end, the group met for several brainstorming sessions in order to share their stories, discuss design ideas, and determine which elements were important to them as a group and as individuals.

The first round of ideas contained a lot of flags, each artist wanting to recognize her or his country of origin. Da Costa discouraged this: "I thought, let's not make this like the UN, not a political thing - let's see what brings us together."  The group drew on each member's stories about home, families, experiences with faith, and the persistence needed to gain assistance from various agencies and embassies. They also talked about their arrivals in the United States, when they didn't know English, didn't know how to find a job, and about the relief they felt in discovering BCRHHR as a community base, a place to learn basic information and get assistance with what they needed. Amongst these tales, the group found enough similarities to help them shape the larger design of the mural.
Da Costa himself explores such themes in his own art. Born in a small village in Angola during the civil war, he lost his parents, brother, and sister, and suffered a gunshot wound in the right arm while he was still a boy. During his recuperation, he was presented with pens, pencils, and paper as a means of rebuilding strength and flexibility in his arm. This was the beginning of his exploration of and eventual career in art.
Da Costa uses his paints to explore the dialogue between the supposedly dichotomous ideas of 'primitive' and 'contemporary,' 'sophisticated' and 'unsophisticated.'  His work contains elements of sadness, loss, and violence, but never on their own -- he always seeks to link them to some kind of emerging good and to reflect something of the human capacity to endure and evolve, noting that, "It is useless to pile drama upon drama."
A graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as well as a trained special education instructor, Da Costa is a great advocate of the potential for art as a unique means of expression for survivors of torture and other trauma. Since it is not linked to finding the right words, art may eventually encourage otherwise silent clients in the direction of talking about their experiences; either way, it provides another means for clients to explore their pasts and current situations.
When recalling the hard work and creativity poured into the mural project by the BCRHHR artists, Da Costa feels that both he and they walked away richer for the experience. The project provided him with a valuable collaborative opportunity; for his fellow artists, it gave them a reason to feel proud of themselves for working on and achieving something they didn't know they could do. While they may never pursue art professionally, the experience nevertheless opened them up to a set of tools and talents they rarely used or perhaps never knew they had. The mural they created is a wonderful gift to current and future clients, and Da Costa hopes that, "The mural should let new clients know, 'You are welcome here, this is for you, and when you need us, we are here.' Even for those who could not participate, this is still their place." Considering the success of the mural project, BCRHHR continues to support and explore programs and opportunities that will similarly benefit clients.

~Alexis Boyce
BCRHHR Volunteer 
[1] Art Therapy website. Retrieved 6/29/09.
The Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights