Trauma is rife in Patongo due to the civil war that raged for 23 years between Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. Trauma is not only emotionally scarring, but can prevent people from being active members of their communities, thereby slowing the rebuilding process. Psychologist Dr. Barbara Bauer and Shelly Evans, a licensed professional counsellor, both from the US, volunteer to train local counsellors in Patongo to help people work through their trauma. Here Barbara and Shelly blog about their experience and share their observations. This is the first of three blog posts.
Our first training
Our 20-passenger plane touches down on a pressed earth runway outside Pader in northern Uganda. There are no buildings, no trees, nothing that resembles an airport. We step out of the plane to meet the people who are there to greet us and escort us to Patongo. We are here to begin our programme to help the profoundly traumatised population struggling to begin life again after 23 years of refugee existence, under constant threat from the LRA. Many in this community are returning child soldiers. All have witnessed atrocities, suffered losses and lived in fear.
The first day, we meet the 40 people who have been invited to be our students for the next two weeks. But then more people arrive, with yet more following. Finally, when we hit 65 students — with people standing in the back of the room and more sitting on the floor — we insist the influx be stemmed.
After everyone introduces themselves, we begin: “We are going to present training in interventions that we use in the United States. We expect you to adapt and modify the training to suit your culture and traditions. Anything that you feel is inappropriate or won’t work here is to be questioned and altered. We are here to learn from you, too.” And with that, we begin.
We start with the basics. With the help of translators, we have small group discussions about topics such as “What is trauma?” and “What are the symptoms someone might have after suffering from a trauma?” Then we move on to simple interventions that can be used to help a traumatised individual. We teach listening skills, relaxation therapy, finding your “safe place”, stress management, imagery and some topics designed particularly for children, such as using story-telling to help a frightened child overcome anxiety.
One of our most popular methods is using games to illustrate therapy techniques, as well as to lighten the mood after a particularly difficult topic. As the natural leaders emerge in our training sessions, they are selected to become outreach counsellors to work with villages repopulated with returning refugees. We look forward to seeing them at work soon!