Creating a Safe Space for the LGBTI Community in Nairobi

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Collins Echesa is a physiotherapist at CVT Nairobi

At CVT Nairobi, our counseling staff has been helping LGBTI clients with mental health care for several years. Most recently, we integrated physiotherapy after clients were raising concerns about the well-being of their physical health. From the counseling group cycle, a 10-week physiotherapy cycle was developed, focused on a safe space for LGBTI clients to address functional issues such as chronic back pain, musculoskeletal disorders and pelvic floor disorders.

Many LGBTI community members experience aggressive harassment and severe discrimination, due to cultural taboos that have been normalized and systemic across the country. With LGBTI clients, some careful considerations were made to meet their specific needs, including education about identifying areas of pain, understanding mechanics of their body, and teaching them exercise techniques to strengthen and heal various parts of their body.

During the group physiotherapy cycle, it was challenging in the beginning, but it was an interesting and interactive group. What really stood out for me was that we had a diverse gender group because of how they identify their sexual orientation and gender expression, which is not common in other refugee group physiotherapy cycles. Most of the clients were very open about the issues or problems they faced and were able to connect between the body and mind during physiotherapy and psychosocial cycles.

At the end of the group cycle, evaluations showed that the majority of the group improved tremendously. Overall, they reported less discomfort, increased ability to perform activities of daily living with more ease, and they became more aware of the challenges of their problems and finding solutions.

The most meaningful part of this group physiotherapy cycle is how much our clients expressed gratitude to CVT and even asked for more sessions. Some clients had already shared with their friends about the benefits of CVT’s services. CVT Nairobi has a community advisory group, which consists of leaders who are aware of their community’s issues and give feedback about CVT’s services. Because our clients’ voices are important, there has been LGBTI representation on the advisory group. 

We’re moving in the right direction in supporting the LGBTI community, and it’s my hope that other agencies in Kenya will also develop a more appropriate referral system to meet the medical and social support that’s needed.

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