Jan 2013 07

Overcoming stigma: GRG responds to ‘finger pointing’ with innovative group therapy

Posted in Featured, News

By Christopher Maclay

Many of the former child soldiers and ex-combatants that GRG works with continue to be stigmatized because of their past. At the community level, stories of formerly abducted people being excluded from community life are common. One young group member from Lamin Adera in Gulu District recently explained, ‘[Other community members] treat us differently because of our past… Some don’t even want us in the same group as them.’ GRG’s group approach seeks to respond to this, by enabling new relationships to be developed, and by encouraging communities to confront and solve their problems. It is a slow and challenging process, but and one that requires such problems of stigmatization to be confronted.

Group member brainstorm what they can do to reduce stigmatization in their community

During group development planning – a GRG-facilitated process where groups examine their community problems and propose the necessary solutions – a number of groups identified stigmatization as a major problem. The solutions were not so easy – while group members were confident that working together as a group would help resolve stigmatization, they wanted to discuss the issue in more depth.

GRG facilitates a discussion about ‘what is stigmatization and how does it affect people

With the support of Dr. Theresa Jones, a clinical psychologist, GRG recently developed a group-based intervention involving discussion, interaction, and theater to encourage empathy, understanding, and community-level efforts to address stigmatization. One part of the intervention involves using storytelling and acting to tell the story of an imaginary community member called Richard.

Two stories are told: in one, Richard goes to tell his sweetheart he wants to marry her, but on his way he gets abducted. He is forced to fight and do many terrible things in the bush. When he returns after escaping from the rebels, he is stigmatized by those who love him, and he becomes depressed. In the other story, Richard gets his nice trousers dirty while on his way to his sweetheart, and turns home. By luck, this means he avoids capture, and spends years in the camp. Later in the story, he stigmatizes those who return from the bush. The stories are used to show how former child soldiers are not evil people, but those who are unlucky to be abducted – wrong place, wrong time.

At Lagem Oran, Ayuu Alali, group members act out the moment where Ojok’s former sweetheart runs away from him after he returns from the bush

In addition to helping members to understand stigmatization better, the module requires groups to decide how to reduce stigmatization in their own community. They put together a small skit where they act how they should treat Ojok different, and what they can do with the wider community to reduce stigmatization.

Group members act out how to better discuss problems, and to reconcile themselves with the past

Finally, the group commits to what they will do as a group to reduce stigmatization. GRG will support the groups to realise these goals and activities.

Group members of Lagem Oran, Ayuu Alali, sign their commitment to reduce stigmatization in their community

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