Stories of Change

A typical street scene in Cairo. Photo used for illustrative purposes only.

Rebuilding trust and finding independence for a young refugee in Cairo

**TRIGGER WARNING: This story is about someone who survived torture as a child. 

Hakim* was 13 years old when he was arrested. Government groups raided homes in the part of the country where he lived, and he was arrested alongside his friends. The troops were looking for members of a local resistance group. For three months, Hakim was subjected to repeated interrogations as well as physical and sexual torture at the hands of government officials and prison guards.  

Finally, he escaped and fled the country 

He ended up in Cairo, where, a few months later, he walked through the gates of St. Andrew’s Refugee Services. Known as StARS, St. Andrew’s is one of the largest providers of services to refugees in Cairo. They are also our local partner; CWS funds many programs that StARS offers. 

As a torture survivor, Hakim was still facing brutal psychological effects. He was anxious and isolated himself socially. He experienced extreme fear, which threatened to overwhelm his ability to function in everyday life. Plus, he was terrified for his siblings who were still in his home country; he had already lost his father and several siblings at the hands of the government. On top of everything else, a local gang had attacked him a few times on the streets of Cairo. 

Other refugees encouraged Hakim to get help, and they recommended he go to StARSSo on that spring day, he went to a drop-in clinic for unaccompanied refugee children. He talked to a caseworker, but he didn’t feel comfortable sharing his story yet.  

It wasn’t long before he enrolled in some StARS programs, though, including one where he got regular counseling. His counselor explained his rights to him and helped him access other available services. Together, they made an action plan for how Hakim could stay safe and rebuild his confidence. Because of the immediate threats, the StARS team helped Hakim get cash grants to cover food and transportation. His caseworker talked to him about his health, and they decided that he should get medical treatment. 

Beyond his physical safety, Hakim also began to focus on his mental health. He was invited to join other refugee children for group counseling and activities. He regularly attended a music group, dance group and art groups. He even started volunteering part-time with another StARS program. 

Since he teamed up with StARS, things have gotten easier for Hakim. He can manage some of the trauma from his past and has overcome much of his stress and anxiety. He has a better handle on his emotions and has gradually become more independent. Importantly, he has friends his own age now and has been able to build confidence and regain trust in other people. He continues to work with his caseworker and engage with StARS programs. We expect him to continue on his path to feeling free, independent and motivated to reach his goals.   

*This is a pseudonym, used to protect the identity of a refugee child.