Caring and Advocating for Torture Survivors

New York, January 10, 2011 - The Vilcek Foundation, in cooperation with the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (PSOT), will host a lecture by Dr. Allen Keller, director and founder of the program, on the critical need to provide recovery services to survivors of torture. Presented on Wednesday, January 26, 2011, at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City, Dr. Keller will discuss the comprehensive care PSOT offers to torture victims and their families so that they may regain their health and begin to rebuild their lives.

To represent the hundreds served by PSOT every year, Dr. Keller will describe the harrowing experiences of several individuals. The Tibetan-born artist Samten Dakpa, who, when still a teenager, was arrested and tortured for painting classic Tibetan images, as part of the effort to suppress Tibetan culture. According to Dr. Keller, by the time Mr. Dakpa came to PSOT, he was in excruciating pain and could barely hold a paintbrush. Since then, Mr. Dakpa has received medical and mental health care, as well as social and legal services, to aid in his recovery - which is ongoing. Cheikhna Mahawa was severely beaten by police in Mauritania because he organized protests to improve education for the poor.  Having received medical and psychological treatment, Mr. Mahawa is now pursuing a doctorate degree and teaching mathematics at City College of New York. Both Mr. Mahawa and Mr. Dakpa will be attending the event.

Dr. Keller will also explain how and why academics, scientists, and artists are among those most often targeted by governments that use torture to achieve their ends. He will detail the crucial roles that research, education, and outreach play in offering a multidisciplinary approach to ease the short- and long-term suffering of survivors from around the world.

Dr. Jan Vilcek, President of the Vilcek Foundation, said, “The importance of the work of Dr. Keller and his staff cannot be overstated. Although this is a difficult topic, one that most of us would prefer not to think about, the practice of torture affects us all, whether directly or indirectly, for many immigrants seeking asylum in this country carry with them the effects of trauma that, left unaddressed, will seriously impede their ability to build self-sufficient lives here.”  

PSOT was founded in 1995; in 2010 alone, the program served more than 680 people from 80 countries, about 140 of whom were new clients. It is estimated that more than 400,000 survivors of torture now live in the United States, and the number of people seeking the help of the team at NYU/Bellevue continues to rise every year.

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