Nightmares of war: The psychological impact of conflict trauma and GRG’s role in supporting healing

Part 2 of a short series on trauma counseling

“One night I hardly slept, the memory of the killing that I forcefully took part in kept tormenting me throughout the night. I would vividly see the deceased in my dream, and that kept haunting me even during day. I have lived in that trauma for so long because many traditional rituals were performed but did not work.”

GRG conducted trauma interviews for 200 trauma victims by reaching remote communities of northern Uganda, who have been suffering greatly of war trauma. We designed our trauma assessment interviews according to standardised psychological tools, adapting them slightly to apply to the specific context of northern Uganda and the LRA conflict. This involved considering local idioms of stress and trauma, as well as typical war experiences relevant to the LRA conflict that affected these communities, including kidnapping and forced displacement into camps.

Ninety percent of our group members reported experiencing at least one traumatic event in their life, which ranged from witnessing the death of a close family member or friend, to being abducted by rebel soldiers into the bush and experiencing life-threatening situations. The most highly reported barriers to well-being in the groups were typically anxiety and depression, manifesting as sleeping difficulties (including nightmares), irritability towards others, alcoholism and feeling hopeless about the future, among others. These are all typical responses to war-trauma, even years later. In many cases, however, group members did not consider themselves to be affected by the traumatic events they witnessed and did not make the link between the events and the emotional and physical problems affecting them now.

Following this, we facilitated several peace dialogue sessions whereby the overarching issues that affect each group can be discussed in greater detail. These sessions are particularly important in creating a dialogue and to encourage thinking around how the group members would like to tackle these issues, and how GRG can support that process. During one peace dialogue, group members suggested a solution to the issue of alcohol abuse within their community. Unaffordable livelihoods opportunities were identified as the root cause of alcoholism, as many people were forced to turn to local alcohol brewing as an income stream. Thus, the group suggested that, with some support from GRG, other forms of livelihoods, such as food businesses, could be encouraged to reduce the presence of alcohol. 

This bottom-up, participatory approach allows each group to develop a project that is tailored to their unique issues, which aids with the sustainability and effectiveness of the programme in its entirety. Hence, GRG plans to incorporate its livelihood program, with a focus on Entrepreneurship skills training, into its psychosocial wellbeing and trauma recovery program in order to empower this community and support their recovery.