GRG MAKES PSCYHOSOCIAL SUPPORT SUSTAINABLE BY TRAINING COMMUNITY MEMBERS AS PEER COUNSELORSPosted in News
By Francis Opio
“I was only 7 when I shot the gun” said Komakech, a resident of Ayuu Alali in Lamwo District. The 20-year long war in Northern Uganda caused immense suffering to mostly the Acholi people and resulted in the displacement of thousands of people and the abduction of over 400,000 children as child soldiers. Child soldiers, forced to fight against their will, committed grave acts, often against their own families. Some witnessed torture and killings, and others were forced to harm others physically.
With the efforts of civil society organizations, peace talks were held in 2006, ushering in stability and relative peace. With this increased stability, people abandoned Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs) camps to return to their ancestral homes. Though life is beginning to normalize as people continue to return, there are many obstacles that both individuals and communities still must face to achieve sustainable peace. By peace, I mean basic necessities and, of course, the existence of love, as well as mental health services. As a result of people’s experiences during the war, the levels of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and depression are very high amongst the displaced and conflict-affected communities.
Survivors cannot forget their experiences and continue to relive them in form of intruding memories, nightmares and flashbacks. For many, war still goes on in their minds and continues to impair their daily life with their families, at work, in school and in the larger community “The sounds of the guns still roar in my mind at night,” Komakech explained. Feelings of guilt may bring about domestic violence and alcohol abuse. To date, hundreds of families still struggle with discrimination and stigmatization as a result of their forced participation in the war.
In such conditions, psycho-social support is a critical element to assist those experiencing these enormous stresses. This requires making counseling and case management services available through strengthening the capacity of local community members to provide these services and to respond to cases as they arise.
To assist the many affected community members, GRG has trained and continues to train peer counselors in counseling and crisis management techniques. This peer counseling approach encourages community members who may have gone through similar experiences to handle sensitive cases of trauma as they arise. It also ensures sustainability of these programs.
During training, the peer counselors learn that many of their community members have gone through a highly stressful event. They are encouraged to promote a sense of calm, show empathy and establish human connections, helping make people feel safe and secure. Counselors are advised to take immediate measures like reorienting survivors to their place and time. This can often be achieved by focusing on breathing or sitting upright on the ground on a mat or chair. Using such steps, GRG has helped LRA returnees by promoting relaxation and simultaneously helping many survivors break free from overwhelming thoughts and emotions by focusing on the physical. GRG is cognizant of the fact that the trained peer counselors within the rural communities are not psychological experts, so it encourages them to refer extreme cases beyond their abilities to hospitals and other organizations providing psycho-social support.