Diane's Story

Diane* is a 37-year-old Congolese woman who was first resettled in a different state, and then came with her seven living children to Utah. As a secondary resettled client, she had few benefits since no resettlement agency would provide her services. Give this fact, UHHR was the perfect program as we provide all services free of charge. There were complications: The client had recently been re-unified with her second husband and their relationship was acrimonious, at best. Secondly, she had seven children, some adult, but most under the age of 18. Thirdly, she was grieving for the loss of her three oldest children who were murdered, along with her first husband, in front of her in her home in the village where she had lived all her life.

But Diane was remarkably resourceful. Within a week of arriving in Salt Lake, she had found help from a local Christian church that found her a place to live, she accessed food stamps and cash assistance from the Department of Workforce Services, and connected with families who could help her who were also refugees.

When she arrived at UHHR, she was ready to begin therapeutic work. She told her story to the therapist. It was grim. She had been raped and physically assaulted so severely she was left for dead. She had a lingering head injury that left her with short-term memory loss and difficulty learning English. She had children with health problems—one with a seizure disorder would tragically die within six months of her arrival.

But nothing would stop Diane from coming for support and therapy, case management and psychiatric intervention from UHHR. And it began to make a difference in her life. Diane began showing improvements little by slowly. She began smiling from time to time—and her smile was contagious. Her face would light up when her therapist would use a word in Swahili, her native tongue.

And then, remarkably, she arrived one day with traditional Congolese food—enough to feed a small army! She said it was her way of saying thank you to her therapist, her case manager, her doctor, psychiatrist, the woman who often greeted her at the door, the volunteer who watched her youngest child while she attended therapy, and the occupational therapy students who worked with her to learn workarounds to tasks of daily living and mnemonic devices that helped her learn how to use the bus, how to shop, and how to get her kids up and off to school on time each morning.

Diane’s children participated in a monthly nature walk with an entomologist who taught them about how nature can heal. They have also received scholarships to attend summer camp at the local Jewish Community Center for the past three years—something they could never have attended without the connection UHHR has with the Center.

Diane has attended weekly appointments now for six years at UHHR. She’s benefitted from virtually everything we offer at one time or another. The last time she entered the agency, she wore a bright, yellow dress with matching head scarf. When she saw her therapist’s face, her face lit up—lit up the room. She did a dance step and said she was headache free (remarkable for someone who suffered from daily migraines). She said she had slept through the night, (again, amazing given her chronic insomnia). She told me she believed she would be granted a housing voucher that would provide her children and herself with an affordable place to live. And finally, she told me she and her husband, a couple we had offered many hours of couples’ therapy, were together again and getting along better than ever—again, something remarkable for a woman who had suffered sexual trauma.

She asked that her picture be taken and that we use her story to let others know that a torture survivor can heal.

We know Diane will have ups and downs. It is the nature of recovery from torture. But her resilience and recovery are a testament to the power of an individual’s resilience and the possibility of what can happen when we come together with holistic services to treat a single individual, a couple, and a family—regardless of the damage and ravages of torture and war.

*All names have been changed and the stories altered to protect our client’s security and privacy.