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CHIBOW ESR gives guest lectures at Ugandan Universities

During her research stay in Uganda, Sophie Roupetz, was invited to give guest lectures at the Uganda Christian University in Kampala, hosted by Allen Kiconco, lecturer and former PhD student at the University of Birmingham. There, she met with Bachelor and Master’s students in Social Work and Psychology to discuss the psychosocial impact of growing up as a child born of the rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Many children have been deeply affected by experiences of war in Uganda’s north and east regions during two decades of civil war between Government forces and the LRA. Since 1986, over 1.8 million people, most of them Acholi and Langi, have been internally displaced. It is estimated that more than 30,000 children have been abducted to serve in the LRA. Although Northern Uganda has seen peace for the past ten years, the process of healing the wounds from those war-abducted, who have returned, has just started. Individuals abducted by the LRA rebel forces are believed to have had their roles fundamentally altered within the family, the community and wider society. They are thought to have different socialisation processes and values. The LRA targeted children, who were ritually terrorised, sexually exploited and abused, forced to kill and watch beatings, maiming, rape and killing of friends and relatives. During the seminars, students shared with Sophie their own stories and reported what family and friends had experienced during the war, and described how they were still suffering from the trauma.

Presenting also her own research “Across the lifespan of children born of war rape in occupied Germany and Austria”, the class heard about the psychosocial consequences of WWII in Europe; they appreciated the given input and made cross-cultural comparisons. However, being born of rape seems to have similar consequences regardless of cultural background, or how much time passes. Children born of rape were a societal taboo in the aftermath of WWII as they are in Uganda today. Psychopathological risk factors in common for these groups seem to be stigmatization, discrimination, ostracism and childhood maltreatment. Asking for psychological interventions to help the war-affected youth in Northern Uganda, students asserted that much more needs to be done for the community to change their attitudes.

After two weeks in Kampala, Sophie moved to the North of the country and presented on the same topic at All Saints University Lango (ASUL) in Lira. Master’s students in Psychology and their lecturer Alfred Oyugi pointed out that psychological treatment centres are still missing in the Lango sub-region, where training is given to former abductees and war victims.

Based on the principle “helping people help themselves”, parents need to be mobilised, sensitised and educated, so that those war victims are able to take care of their children now. One of the students, Victoria Awori, is working for the local non-governmental organization EACH “Empowerment Action for Community Health Uganda”, supporting the community to restore peace and hope in her country ( Having organised a marathon, EACH Uganda was able to raise 320,000 Ugandan Shillings and 12 bars of soaps in December. Also, the team wants to put in place a psychosocial rehabilitation centre that will restore hope to the wounded: the raped women and girls; those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and those, psychosocially tortured during the war.

“After relative peace returned to Northern Uganda, government and development partners launched the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, a strategy that was to guide post conflict reconstruction. The strategy has mostly focused on infrastructure rehabilitation, return and resettlement of people from various camps of internally displaced persons, but little or no attention on psychosocial care and healing. As EACH Uganda, we are doing our best to restore HOPE and DIGNITY to our people” (Victoria, EACH Uganda)

To get started, the initiative is dependent on donors, partners and colleagues. While the team is advertising their work in the region and is requesting financial support of international NGO’s and the government, Sophie just started a crowdfunding for the project in Europe

One of the former abductees, Agnes (39) now a mother of four, said she had to reallocate far away from her home village to another district because of stigmatization, discrimination and continued psychological torture from relatives, friends and in-laws after she came back from the bush. Infected with HIV/AIDS, people call her children rebels, and the relatives of her husband are telling him to leave her.

"I had reached a point of committing suicide but got a lot of hope and healing when a team from EACH Uganda visited me, talked with me, and trained me (us) on small scale income generating activities. I have now taken life very positively and I look forward to helping other victims, especially raped girls outside there, to heal and move on. I know there are very many people outside there like me who need help” (Agnes, war victim)

On World AIDS Day, the class was discussing the impact of educational work in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Asking students about the beliefs and taboos surrounding the diagnosis of HIV, feedback was diverse. Even though campaigns take place, access to medicine is provided and handing out condoms as a preventive measure is common place, a variety of reasons (or indeed rumours) tend to prevent a solution to the ongoing problem. Students named examples, such as “The liquid of the condoms causes cancer” and “HIV treatment is often abused to feed the animals like piglets, due to it, they grow faster and get bigger”.

However, the class is aware of the effect of the still sensitive issue of HIV, which remains highly stigmatised in Uganda. Also, two lecturers and heads of department in the faculty of social sciences, Alfred Oyugi and Stephen Atwii Ongom, have started a campaign with a small group of students on the fight against HIV/AIDS. They are working as change agents to the community around the university through counselling those, who had lost hope in life as a result of LRA insurgency in Northern Uganda, but they are being limited to move out in far distances financially and are calling upon some financial support to help them accomplish the task ahead of them successfully (for more information, please contact: Giving guest lectures and meeting with Ugandan lecturers and students was very important for ESR Sophie’s research on children born of war and to sensitize to the mental health consequences of war as a global issue.

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