George Aketch is an IOM psychosocial counsellor based in Nairobi’s Migration Health Assessment Centre (MHAC). MHAC provides migration health-related assistance for immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and mobile populations. With a career spanning 27 years, Aketch has seen it all and has diligently served various categories of migrants. Especially refugees that have been approved for resettlement. Astute, humble, soft spoken and witty, Aketch has played a profound role in beneficiaries lives.
Whats Most Outstanding about your work:
Mr. James*** (not his real name) was among the many applicants who were undergoing HIV tests for the purpose of resettlement in late 1990’s. By then, professional HIV counselling had not been initiated within IOM Nairobi. Mr. James was single when he first did medicals and he tested positive for HIV. He did not undergo a post-test counselling. He got married and had two children who all tested positive. His family had been ailing for some time yet they had no idea of what was ailing them. Medical tests by IOM confirmed they were HIV positive. I was the bearer of the news which was devastating and eventually shattering their dreams of ever resettling in the United States.
However, all was not lost after the US government lifted HIV/AIDS travel ban and they were recalled for repeat medical assessment. Mr. James was later diagnosed with Tuberculosis after undergoing pre-departure screening, halting their travel plans as he had to undergo a six months treatment. Mr. James could not take it and at one encounter, threatened to kill the examining doctor. IOM provided him the necessary treatment and psychological support. His two beautiful daughters were commenced on ARVs and they were improving day by day. He finally underwent all the required treatment and was able to resettle to the United States.
Most Inspiring Moment:
I have had many inspiring moments but especially when my clients accept their status and choose to live and soldier on regardless of the prevailing circumstances. I remember one lady came to our comprehensive care clinic when everyone else had lost hope of her recovery. She was HIV positive and had Tuberculosis. But within a month on combined treatment she improved tremendously and is today living a productive life. In February 2002, members of the Somali community had measured reservations towards IOM counselling. It has been hard work to have them appreciate the counselling services.
Establishing counselling services in IOM Nairobi was very challenging initially for it to be accepted as necessary professional duty to applicants but with time the counsellors and counselling has become part and parcel of health assessment.
Have you had any low moments at work?
I was at my lowest when one of the clients died as a result of opportunistic infections. This has happened twice.
What did you find challenging as Counsellor with IOM?
Establishing counselling in IOM Nairobi was very challenging initially as clients were not open for counselling. The situation is different and counselling has become part and parcel of health assessments. Support from our leaders like Dr. Davide Mosca and Dr. Alesander Galev, to mention a few, has been crucial in this process. Human being are capable to make decisions on their own but we at some point may need some supporting individuals, an understanding shoulder to lean on, when in need, because during crisis we tend to develop a cloudy mental frame. The responsibility of the a psychological counsellor is to unlock this cloudiness and offer the aggrieved a mirror for self- reflection, an alternative view point and perspective, which leads to deep self-awareness and clarity, in a process based on professional relationship.