Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Berlin Center for Torture Survivors

It was a misty bike ride, and I was filled with uncertain thoughts. I was heading to a torture treatment center and meeting with a woman that showed no warmth in her emails. Oddly, her short, deterring responses did not stop me. I was intrigued and craving to volunteer and work with some of these survivors while in Berlin.

I cycled right up to this massive, brick medical center and stumbled upon House C. I walked through a sterile stairway, up two flights of stairs, and wallah - a door was open. I passed through and there stood this man, with drifting eyes, wearing a white jumpsuit, staring at me. Mom always says walk into a new place with confidence, and so I gave him a nod and followed the sign to the Main Office. I only made it half way down this white hallway before a woman came scurrying out of the office asking with such sternness - "Was suchen sie?" (What are you searching for?!).

I told her BZFO. Her immediate response, with a finger pointing me in the other direction - one floor higher. I was at the psych ward.

BZFO (Behandlungszentrum für Folteropfer or Berlin Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims).

After gaining awareness by working with refugees in Atlanta and wanting to learn more while in Berlin, I came across BZFO online.

Founded in 1992, this treatment center was born out of a confrontation with the history of Nazi medicine -- the subsequent refusal of a large part of the German medical profession to face up to the Holocaust survivors and grant them reparation and rehabilitation. The rehabilitation of torture victims supports them in feeling their dignity again and, where possible, to lead a life which is largely free of physical complaints caused by their torture experiences.

Today, BZFO treats (through psychological treatment, music & art therapy) annually over 400 torture victims and refugees from around the world, and they continually try to etch away at the deep waiting list. I was well versed on the center after reading a book they wrote - At the Side of Torture Survivors.

Britta Jenkins - Public Relations for BZFO.

I had an appointment with my "email buddy" Britta. I wasn't envisioning much, but low and behold I gained a 90 minute discussion of todays primary torture victims, what torture really means (and how scared people are of the word), and a tour of their floor. I was filled with new thoughts and more questions.

My biggest desire. I want to talk with one of the centers translators who is the key to translating the torture stories from the victim to the therapist. Translators speak in the first person since they are representing another. It is all - I and me - and with enough sessions the translator feels the weight and almost undergoes the torture. BZFO loses many translators because it is simply too heavy on the soul.

I also realized that I would not be able to do much pro-active volunteering work. When working with torture victims you need trust and consistency, and sadly I only have 6 weeks left here.

However, I am invited to use their extensive research library, and I have plugged Britta to get me in contact with one of the translators who has since quit.

I will definitely return, bury my nose in the books, and let my feet wander through the hallways. Who knows what I will find.