May 2015 04

Notes from the Field: GRG’s counseling intern reflects on GRG’s impacts in Lamwo District

Posted in News

Norah Brinkerhof is GRG’s newest intern in Gulu.  A recent Masters graduate in Clinical Psychology, Norah is working closely with GRG’s counselor Richard.  Together they are spear-heading the expansion of GRG’s counseling activities, in Gulu, Amuru and Lamwo districts.

By Norah Brinkerhof


I have now been in Gulu for a month and a half working with GRG.  I joined GRG to help serve victims of trauma and work daily with Richard Okidi, GRG’s counselor.  Our days are in the villages meeting the people, many of whom are GRG group members.

My first impression of Uganda was the smiling and warm welcomes when visiting people at home.  People love to laugh here!  If there is any reason to laugh, or joke about what has been said (especially by the munu white lady)) people LAUGH!  I am loving my time in Uganda and look forward to spending many more months here.  But there has also been challenges and surprises…

My life working with GRG is a real change from my life back home in the Netherlands.  After my first two working days in Gulu, I traveled to Lamwo District (on the South Sudan border) for two whole weeks.  What a culture shock I got.  I went from a snowy winter holiday to dusty 95 degree (35 C) heat, rural poverty, and a very insecure water supply.

I expected to live without power, running water or a flushing toilet in Lamwo, but I did not expect the poverty of the people I met or the amount of mental health problems I encountered (47% prevalence).  What shocked me most, however, were the gender-role patterns or the villagers.  Men leave in the morning to go to the “center” (basically the main street in the village) to drink together, play cards and sometimes meet women until late in the evening.  They leave their wives and children at home, and only come back when they’re ready for rood and “marital duties” from their wives.  Women do the housework, child rearing, gardening, and try to make some money so they can buy and prepare food in the evening.

From my cultural perspective, this division is hard to accept.  Many men do not allow women to have businesses, and if women do, men take all the money earned to go and drink.  It was shocking to learn that it is very common for a man to have multiple wives, many children, and no money to send them to school.  As a woman I am very saddened by this way of life because it overlooks, disempowers and underestimates women.  Life is different in Gulu Town, where people have higher levels of education and many women hold jobs in banks and offices and with the government.  But in rural areas like Lamwo, where many people were abducted by the LRA or spent years in IDP camps, the role of a man as “boss” and wife as worker is very strong.

Still, as a counselor I can see challenges everywhere in Lamwo.  The population really needs the counseling services that GRG is working to provide.   The people have been through a lot and they are trying to keep their heads up.  They have experienced and seen things worse than I can imagine, and almost all of them suffer from trauma; either first- or second-hand.  They live through nightmares and flashbacks of horrible events from the war.

Although it may seem unlikely, I am very happy here.  My works gives me a good feeling, however cliché that sounds.  I am not changing the world, and I am not here to change these people.  It genuinely makes me happy when I run a workshop on family sensitization, and then I hear that a man took his wife out for leisure.

GRG’s approach of addressing economic and mental health needs makes so much sense here.  Men need to participate in activities, such as GRG projects,  so that drinking is not the main activity to fill spare time.  By working in GRG , women are becoming empowered, taking leadership roles and encouraging men to “style up”.

It makes me very happy to drive out of the field with my colleagues, and while the sun sets we joke around  over our jobs.  No matter what, even when things are hard or depressing, Ugandans are always ready to laugh at a joke or give a big  smile to welcome an outsider.

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