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Trauma recovery for refugees in Uganda

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For the thousands of refugees who pour into Ugandan camps every month, access to food, water and shelter is the first thing they seek. As they settle in long-term, other issues arise, including dealing with the psychological impact of trauma, and connecting with their new neighbours across a wide variety of ethnic and language groups.

Into this situation, TEAR has partnered with Tutapona Uganda to provide psychosocial support for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Following Jesus’ example of all-encompassing love for all people, Tutapona provides individual counselling, and a group support program, called Empower. In this, they are leading individuals affected by conflict to emotional recovery.

Eriminia, who arrived at Pagorinya camp last year, welcomed Candice Lassey from Tutapona Uganda into her home and shared her story of transformation from fear to strength. For her, finding neighbours she could trust has been key to finding hope.

Erminia Uganda 1


Note to the reader: This story contains a reference to sexual violence.

“When I left South Sudan I was really suffering through stress and trauma. When I reached Pagyrinya I couldn’t even sleep. Sometimes I could get surprised easily. It was a very hard. When I got here I was only given a tent to sleep in. It has already blown away by wind. At that point, the land was all bush and I had nothing. The people around here wouldn’t help me, they wouldn’t even give me advice. Sometimes I would cry and there was the issue of the language barrier. I was alone as a Maadi and the people on the other side were not. My daughter died and left me with her children. It made me very worried about how I would survive with them. I was suffering from ulcers and other things and then one night someone came and raped me and they gave me HIV.

Sharing what I was going through really helped me. I cannot really hide, so I thought it was wise just to share with people I trust. When I got through Empower I was really strengthened. I wanted to share that with you.

Sometimes because of thinking I could often collapse. I didn’t know how I could help myself.

So what had happened to me, that was really hard, but when I came to Empower I got a new strength. Sharing what I was going through really helped me. I cannot really hide, so I thought it was wise just to share with people I trust. When I got through Empower I was really strengthened. I wanted to share that with you.

At least now I feel like I am a part of my community. I am not alone.

Erminia Uganda 2

There really is hope after Empower. Even though I still have life challenges, I have hope. And I have trust, before I could not trust but now there are people that I can trust and talk to. I also feel focussed. I am focussed on doing things to help me and the children live better lives. Now I am practising subsistence farming. It may only be small but at least it is enough for me and the children to eat. It also helps start other things for our lives.”

Erminia Uganda 3

Demonstrating Christ’s Love to Refugees

The nation of Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees, the vast majority of which (around 1 million) come from South Sudan, and most of these are women and children. Psychological screening in the camps indicates a very high rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) leading to symptoms such as dissociation, depression, sleep disruptions and anxiety.

Tutapona Uganda, TEAR’s local partner, has been able to support over 900 people, with an indirect impact of 4,600 people, enabling them to manage the effects of trauma and focus on building a future for their children. Their program, providing counselling and group-based support, reflects the organisation’s core values, one of which is working in relationship: “We value relationship in the communities where we work and celebrate the uniqueness of each individual. We recognise that lasting change is only possible through relationships that transform. Our internal relationships are healthy and professional. We remain patient with setbacks, strengthened by feedback, willing to forgive, humble in conflict and challenged to demonstrate Christ’s unconditional love to all.”

Candice Lassey is an Australian working in Field Communications for Tutapona Uganda.