- Training and supporting local counsellors, health professionals, officials and leaders
- Fighting stigma about mental health issues, epilepsy and HIV
In 2010, following a grant from the Baring and John Ellerman Foundations, we began training local people in Patongo to be community counsellors. Patongo had been one of the biggest refugee camps in northern Uganda during the war, and just about everyone there was severely traumatised. We worked with a talented pool of community members who set up an NGO called Patongo Community Counselling Outreach (PCCO). PCCO selected 24 respected community members – 13 women and 11 men – who received in-depth training in counselling skills from our pro bono psychologists, Dr. Barbara Bauer and Shelly Evans. Working in pairs, the community counsellors went out into their community, helping thousands of people come to terms with their trauma, and teaching them ways of coping with it. They also held community education sessions and radio talk shows which raised awareness of mental illness, reduced stigma and informed people how to seek treatment. Recognising that the informal justice system in Uganda is very powerful, we trained clan leaders, teachers, elders, police etc., in basic counselling skills so that they could pass on their knowledge to others and help with stigma reduction. Before long, neighbours and friends were able to support each other with their trauma, and knew how to refer people for more specialist treatment. We understood that working with local health structures was the key to ensuring sustainability, so PCCO designated five of its counsellors to work with Patongo’s newly appointed psychiatric nurse. This strengthened local mental health provision and also brought about essential follow-up treatment in the community.