THE MAIN CHARACTERS + THEIR STORIES
THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF TORTURE SURVIVORS LIVING AMONGST US.
THEY PASS US ON THE STREET ... WORK WITH US ... SIT ACROSS FROM US ON THE BUS ... WORSHIP ALONGSIDE US.
AND YET THEY REMAIN ANONYMOUS—THEIR HISTORIES UNKNOWN, VOICES UNHEARD.
SEEKING REFUGE amplifies the voices of four such survivors whose storylines coalesce to form the film's dramatic arc.
What emerges is an understanding of how torture is used as a universal weapon of social, political and economic control intended to terrorize individuals and communities into passivity, submission and silence.
By participating in the film, these survivors brave their souls to speak out against those who sought to silence them in order to summon community engagement in the global effort to achieve transitional justice and end an epidemic of torture and other human rights abuses.
Like tens-of-thousands of his countrymen, this modest bookkeeper was jailed and tortured by the ruthless regime of Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, who was supported by the U.S. and France during the 1980’s. A devoutly religious man, he promised God that if he got out of prison alive, he would bring Habré to justice. By the end of the film we learn that this
strong-willed65-year-old has achieved a landmark global human rights achievement— Hissène Habré’s imprisonment in Dakar and the formation of the first African tribunal to try an African dictator in Africa. And yet, SOULEYMANE's victory is bittersweet. Since he cannot work as a result of the injuries inflicted by Habré’s henchmen, he and his family live in a homeless shelter.
Ten years after escaping Sierra Leone, 40-year-old Kadijatu Barry continues to suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Caught in the crossfire between rebel soldiers (who held her captive for two years) and a corrupt government who fought over lucrative diamond mines, Kadijatu witnessed and experienced heinous atrocities, including the massacre
of her entire family. This warm and powerful yet emotionally shattered woman remains obsessed with fulfilling the wishes of her dying mother—to help the children of Sierra Leone. KADIJATU's storyline demonstrates how the multinational appetite to exploit natural resources can spur human rights abuses, which in this case, were fueled by the French and U.S. backed Liberian President Charles Taylor.
KALSANG an incredibly kind 50-year-old former Buddhist nun who was imprisoned, tortured and sexually violated after demonstrating against the Chinese government’s oppression of religious freedom. She eventually escaped from Tibet by climbing over the Himalayan Mountains and making her way to the U.S., where she sought the support of
The Survivor Program. Her trauma is made worse by waves of Tibetan self-immolations that erupted around the world in protest of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. KALSANG's story illustrates the impact of economically friendly but politically neutral-or-weak western policies regarding China’s human rights abuses.
For years, this 27-year-old gay man and his best friend dreamt of leaving Jamaica, which hHuman Rights Watch called the most homophobic place on earth. With his life in grave danger, DONRODGE slept with a knife under his pillow and, upon awakening, read his Bible for the strength to endure the threats and abuse he experienced ever since he was a child.
Five years ago he and his friend were abducted, brutally attacked and sexually assaulted. His friend’s pleading last words to their attackers—“Do anything to me but please don’t hurt my friend”—echo in the folds of his mind. DONRODGE's story illustrates how cultural norms, moral values, religious standards and state-sanctioned discrimination fuel stigmatization and violence that offers little-to-no judicial recourse.
ALLEN KELLER, M.D.
Allen Keller, M.D. is the Director of The Survivor Program. A miniature golf enthusiast with a dry sense of humor and piercing blue eyes, Keller co-founded The Survivor Program in 1995, making it the first multidisciplinary organization in the U.S. to address the complex needs of torture survivors. Of the 23 organizations
that comprise the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs, The Survivor Program is the largest and most diverse. In addition to addressing the medical needs of our survivors, his job also involves human rights advocacy. As such, he often testifies in front of Congress and is currently working on passing anti-torture legislation in New York State.
HATHORNE SMITH, Ph.D.
A genial powerhouse with a deep melodious voice and a big heart, Hawthorne Smith, Ph.D. is a psychologist with a background in international affairs and foreign service. For the past eighteen years, he has helped survivors from all paths of life deal with the inherent
challenges of relearning how to trust and to rediscover joy. In addition to being the Clinical Director, Smith conducts individual therapy with survivors and leads several group therapy sessions, the largest ofwhich is the Francophone group. Smith is one of the world’s leading educators in the care of survivors.