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Overcoming trauma

Now, Cynthia also wants to realise her career ambitions.

Overcoming trauma

Cynthia is 42 years old. She is one of almost 24,000 Mauritanians who sought refuge in Senegal in 1989. Her family was forced to leave Mauritania when the border war broke out between the two countries. “I was ten years old back then”, Cynthia says. She still can’t forget the scenes of killings and rapes that took place before her eyes during the border conflict.

As a young woman, she kept trying to establish a stable life for herself in Senegal. She worked as a waitress and sold clothes. But she had to spend all her savings on medical care after a traffic accident. She couldn’t work for six months, and was in a desperate state. Friends told her about an advice centre run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Dakar which helps refugees. In February 2020, this centre referred Cynthia to the “House of Hope”.

Gradually coming to terms with what she experienced

This institution is a partner in the “Returning to New Opportunities” programme run by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It cooperates closely with the Senegalese-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration (CSAEM) operated by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. “We’re happy to refer people seeking psychological counselling to the professional advisors at the House of Hope”, says Abdourahmane Idaly Kamara, the manager at CSAEM.


Their counselling is mainly based on psychotraumatology, in other words helping people to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. “At the core of the therapy is a treatment in which you’re confronted with your trauma – so-called narrative exposure therapy, shortened to NET”, says Ndella Faye, a counsellor and therapist at the House of Hope. “The person receiving counselling initially recounts their life story in chronological order. The focus here is on their negative experiences, but positive experiences are also recalled.”

Cynthia in conversation with her counsellor.

Cooperation with experts in Germany

The House of Hope cooperates with the Centre of Excellence for Psychotraumatology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. This Centre of Excellence follows the principle of "train the trainer" by qualifying the people providing the therapies in Senegal. The qualified sociologist Faye also completed this training.

She welcomed Cynthia at the House of Hope, and used the NET method to help her come to terms with her experiences. The therapies are initially scheduled for three months, with one session every week. A decision is then made as to whether further conversations are needed. “Depending on what’s revealed during the counselling sessions, the counsellors decide whether their clients can continue to be helped by the House of Hope or whether they should be referred to a psychiatric centre”, Faye explains.

“I knew that I couldn’t cope with my difficult past on my own”, Cynthia states. She therefore started receiving therapy at the House of Hope shortly before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “The sessions enabled me to slowly rebuild my self-confidence. I really feel much better now.” She successfully completed her therapy.

Counselling carried on during the pandemic

Cynthia is one of many people who the House of Hope has helped on the path to better mental health: in 2019 it was 225 people, last year 186. This means the number only reduced slightly in the first year of the pandemic. The counselling sessions had to be suspended for a short period, but then resumed virtually or – in compliance with strict hygiene rules – in person at the House of Hope. This meant that Cynthia didn’t have to interrupt her therapy despite the contact restrictions.


She has already set herself a new challenge. She intends to apply for Senegalese citizenship, since she now feels at home in the country. “I’ve been living here for over 30 years now, and I know Senegal better than Mauritania.” Cynthia is looking to the future and thinking of starting her own business – she hasn’t decided yet exactly what that will involve.

As of: 09/2021

The opportunities for advice and assistance described here are offered as part of “Returning to New Opportunities”.

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I knew that I couldn’t cope with my difficult past on my own.

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