Addressing the psychological impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities in Lamwo, Northern Uganda.

Northern Uganda holds the highest percentage of multidimensional poverty in Uganda, with 68 percent of its rural population lacking education, access to health services, inadequate living standards, disempowerment, poor quality of work, and the threat of violence. This explains the high rate of vulnerability and psychosocial problems in the region attributed to the long history of violence brought about by the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. The 20-year-long war resulted in traumas, divisions, and economic and social marginalization of the region, which impacts still live among the population and are further prolonged by the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic has resulted in a curfew from 7pm  and total and partial lockdowns that have taken place throughout the year. In addition, the communities have become hosts to over fifty-six thousand refugees fleeing conflict in South Sudan.

Grassroots Reconciliation Group (GRG) addresses these problems by providing trauma-healing workshops, anti-stigma training, and counseling sessions. Particularly beneficial has been the peer counselors training of community members like Juma (in the picture above), who have been providing basic peer-to-peer counseling to their communities. During the lockdown period, they were key in the quick response to the trauma-related issues arising from the pandemic. Indeed, since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in psychosocial problems, most commonly domestic violence and suicidal tendencies among the populations. These are due to increased poverty and limited government and NGO interventions as a result of the restrictions enforced to tackle the pandemic. At least three cases of suicide are reported to the local authorities in the Palabek Refugee Settlement (in Lamwo district) every week since the lockdown began. Using the local structures and the peer counselors, we continue to provide psychosocial support with constant follow-ups, maintaining our relationship with the recipients. However, with the worrying numbers of suicidal tendencies and gender-based violence cases being reported, there is a growing need to train more community members with basic counseling skills and carry out more counseling sessions and awareness campaigns on mental health care. All these to increase outreach, support, and resilience among the already hit community members.

With your support, we can train more peer counselors and continue to provide counseling and awareness campaigns on mental health care while reaching out to more vulnerable people suffering from the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.