We hear first-hand from several participants on how the mental health work (being provided by Network for Africa and our Partners) has made a difference to their lives. These participants have all taken part in our current mental health projects in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda. They have all given their permission to share their testimonies on our website.
Rwanda – Testimonies from Our Counselling Project for Survivors of The 1994 Genocide
A 26-year-old woman: An orphan had been separated from her mother when she was only 1 month old. She later found her mother again, but found it too difficult to accept her as her mother after such a long time apart. She spent a long time feeling hopeless, lonely, and unable to trust other people. She suffered from insomnia, only slept for a few hours each night, and had made suicide attempts. Since joining the counselling group, she has risen to become a Peer Support Counsellor. She said this responsibility has changed her life. Now she says that she likes talking to people, especially those who are living with her in the same counselling groups. She is now very happily married and building a family of her own. She feels a great deal of hope for the future and is now sleeping well.
A 28-year-old man: His mother was killed during the genocide and he was left with his father, who then remarried. He suffered from nightmares, intense anxiety, and the grief of losing his mother. Being part of the counselling group helped him to make friends and regain a sense of meaning in his life. His Peer Support Counsellor has helped him to resolve the conflict he had with his stepmother through home visits. Counsellors have helped him to understand that anger and sorrow are not helping him, but holding him back. He is now in a better mental state and feels that he is capable of making life good. He has learned relaxation techniques that he uses to improve his sleep and overcome nightmares. He said “I was feeling lonely. I had no friends. I would pass the whole night crying without sleeping. But I am grateful for being part of this counselling group, because I found people who really love me. I felt loved and cared for again. I now feel that having a good life is possible. I learned that anger only damages my future, it does not help you move onwards. I forgave my stepmother and I am planning to get married and start a family of my own”.
Sierra Leone – Testimonies about Life-Changing Mental Health Support
A 51-year-old man: I lost my wife and 4 children during the Ebola crisis in 2014 and at first my relatives were sympathetic with me. At some point I thought life was useless. After 8 months, my uncle started asking me for rent for the room I was occupying in his house, but I had no money to pay rent. I had to move further away from the village and live in a farm hut. I had to earn my living by helping people to carry loads; people who knew me laughed at me and called me all sorts of names. I had very little hope, and thought that I would not make it anymore. One of my friends who used to hire me to carry luggage for him asked me to visit Kabantama and ask for a Conforti counsellor, he said it would help me. I have spoken to him many times, and he encouraged me to begin to think positively. Since then, I now feel better and I believe that I can make it now in life, despite my sad past. He is now a member of a self-help group, and a strong advocate for the establishment of a group savings scheme. He is still struggling for income, but feeling more supported and less stigmatised by his community.
A 45-year-old woman: lost all her relatives during the war, including her 4 children and husband. They were accused of collaborating with government soldiers and all 5 were gunned down in her presence. She told Conforti at the beginning of support: “I see myself hopeless.” However, after receiving counselling from a female Conforti counsellor, she said “I sat down again and compared myself to those that have lost their arms and feet and realised that if they can have hope in life again why can’t I. So, I made up my mind and started selling pounded cassava and now whenever I hear of war in other countries/areas I always pray for Sierra Leone not to have war [again]”. Having experienced improvements to her mental health through counselling, she is now a member of one of the Self Help Groups in her community.
A 16-year-old child: became an orphan in 2015 when she lost her father and mother to Ebola. She was an only child. She now lives with her uncle, but he is unemployed. She said “I worried about who would pay my school fees or buy my clothing. I have missed school for the past two school years because of lack of support”. She told Conforti she has felt sad for a long time, especially when thinking of her parents. “I thank God for meeting with Conforti through their social workers who asked me some questions, then referred me to the office to see one of their counsellors. Since my meeting with the Counsellor, I feel much better now and really hopeful. Talking to a female counsellor has made a difference in my life”. She is now a Self Help Group member in her community, and Conforti’s counsellors have continued to engage with her uncle so that he can best support her.
Uganda – Testimonies from Community Mental Health Matters, Kalongo, Agago District
A 63-year-old man: had been suffering with his mental illness for about a year, with no treatment and proper care from his family members. He had been kept locked inside the house with no clothing. He ate alone and was not always allowed to move freely in his community for fear that he may destroy people’s property. He had also been stopped from fulfilling his responsibilities as one of the committee members because of his mental health condition. One day a BNUU Mental Health Counsellor was conducting a Community Education Session in the nearby community when one of the Village Health Team informed a BNUU Mental Health Counsellor on the condition of the man. The counsellor visited his home. Later on, the patient enrolled and started treatment. After 8 months of treatment, the patient has started feeling better and has begun to move freely in his community. The man also enjoys his meals with the other family members, and attends other community functions. The BNUU counsellor is still working with the patient and continues to offer psycho-education and counselling sessions to avoid a relapse.
A 49-year-old woman: a widow with 4 children of her own and 3 from her late daughter, who had experienced a great deal of loss (she lost her husband in 2007 and her mother in 2014) and had been grieving for quite a long time. In 2017 she then lost her own daughter, followed by the death of her niece in early 2019. She was also suffering from a chronic illness that kept her hospitalised for almost 3 months. This had led to loss in energy, lack of sleep/appetite problems and fatigue. She was sad and irritable, and suffered with back pain and palpitations. The patient had also started to stay on her own and avoid others. However, she did decide to enroll in BNUU’s programme, and received psycho-education, counselling and home visits, helping her in the grieving process. She has also been helped to identify a social network and coping strategies. She has been trained in human rights and advocacy enriching her knowledge. Currently, she is engaging in normal activities – the patient has gained energy and sleeps and eats well. Her moods have also changed, and she looks happy. She is now the chairperson of their Self Help Group where they share ideas.
Uganda – Testimonies from Our Livelihood Support For People with Mental Health Issues, Agago District
Testimonies to follow.
A selection of older testimonies from the beneficiaries of our Patongo Community Counselling project is available below as a PDF.