The war in northern Uganda had a direct and brutal impact on almost every individual in a very personal manner. Thousands were killed, millions were displaced, and the LRA abducted more than 30,000 children, forcing them to serve as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Almost everyone was forced to abandon their farms to live in dismal and squalid refugee camps for more than 20 years. People have now returned to their land, but the conflict’s legacy is chronic and widespread post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, Uganda’s refugees have amongst the highest rates of PTSD ever recorded, with women twice as likely as men to manifest symptoms. Their social networks, traditional farming skills, coping mechanisms and structures have been lost, resulting in very high levels of domestic violence, gender-based violence, rape, early pregnancy, depression and alcoholism. Their problems are compounded by a lack of basic infrastructure, a consequence of decades of conflict and political and economic marginalisation by successive Ugandan governments.
Network for Africa’s local partner, Patongo Counselling Community Outreach (PCCO), offers training in basic counselling skills. The counselling courses, led by volunteer psychotherapists Dr. Barbara Bauer and Shelly Evans, equip and encourage people to talk about what has happened within their community and to reduce their sense of isolation and hopelessness. Once trained, the counsellors work in pairs (one man, one woman) to counsel members of community in Patongo and outlying areas. This programme transforms people’s lives by alleviating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and its associated social and economic problems.
Travelling from village to village on their bicycles every week, these outreach counsellors meet in huts or under the shade of mango trees and help small groups of local people work towards supporting each other and rebuilding their communities. They offer other support too, such as help with income generating activities and counselling people who are HIV positive. This network is transforming the life chances of thousands of people, giving them opportunities to rebuild their lives and communities.