These past weeks have been tumultuous, unwieldy, and remarkable for PSOT and our community. So much has happened. So much is being accomplished.
We held our 23rd annual benefit in early May. By all measures, it was an unmitigated success. We garnered more financial support than ever before; but the real victory was the spirit that permeated the event and animated all the participants. Our Cornerstone Award winner, Maziar Bahari, noted, “This room feels like family.” He was right. From our honorees, to our clients, our funders, and our community supporters, we committed as one to caring for one another, healing the scars of torture and standing up for human rights.
Soon thereafter, we officially re-opened our door for intakes. Since then, nearly 20 new clients have already gone through the formal process of being engaged in the program and beginning to receive our comprehensive services. We also received additional funds from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to expand our ability to treat torture survivors in our program and to extend our outreach to other service providers in the community. We continue to strive to build a stronger safety net for survivors in the NYC area.
Though our clients still face a daunting path to normalized immigration status, we have experienced a number of dramatic asylum grants over the past few weeks. This is in addition to the joyful family reunifications we have witnessed and proud new citizens strolling our hallway. During an asylum hearing, an Immigration Judge asked one of our clients (who has been separated from his family for over seven years), if PSOT had supported him. The client stood and told the Immigration Judge, “No. They did more than support me. If not for PSOT, I would not be standing here before you. I wouldn’t be alive.”
We have been busy out in the community as well. A recent conference sponsored by the Jewish Board for Family Services had to move to a larger venue after announcing that their keynote speaker would be PSOT’s Director. The speech, and the subsequent panel discussion among survivors (that also featured a PSOT client), was enthusiastically received by the over 500 healers and community stakeholders in attendance.
PSOT’s Founder, Dr. Allen Keller, has been busy monitoring the crisis on the border and engaging with LGBTQ survivors detained by ICE in Louisiana. Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith penned a chapter with our Program Director on group interventions with forced migrants in the recently published and well-reviewed book: “Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Interdisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives.”
Three of our program’s alumnae earned their advanced degrees, as they continue to make their marks in the human rights community. Big shouts to Dr. Nancy Murakami who earned her Doctorate of Social Work (D.S.W.); Dr. Yang-Yang Zhou who earned her Doctorate in Psychology (Ph.D.); and Betsy Miles, who earned her Master’s in Social Work (M.S.W.). We have always expected great things from you all; and we continue to expect great things. You make us very proud.
The challenges remain, however. Barely a week goes by when we do not hear of further draconian measures to “discourage” and/or penalize asylum seekers. We try to provide as much information as possible so that survivors know their rights and do not fall prey to “street rumors” and misinformation that can wreak havoc on their emotional states. We engage with legal service providers like Human Rights First to recruit and train more pro bono attorneys to meet the skyrocketing need. We continue to rebuild our capacity to provide direct services while building deeper community integration with other organizations.
It is time for a movement.
We feel well-placed and blessed to play a role in that movement, but we need to be at full strength. PSOT has to do more than just try to rebuild to “where we were.” We must go further and rise to the challenges the survivors are facing.
They count on us, and we count on you. We hope you will consider continuing your support of our program and our efforts. Our website remains www.survivorsoftorture.org. No gesture is too small and no gift is too big.
When we look at the balance of blessings and challenges, we are confident that our community will help tip the scales to the positive side. You always have, and we pray that you always will.