By Rebecca Tinsley
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Women trying to rebuild life in northern Uganda are not yet safe enough for typical trauma counseling to be appropriate. A U.S. charity finds it can still provide assistance by training local people who can then help survivors adapt, work and sleep.
Our approach is to train well-respected local people in basic trauma counseling. They in turn help their communities. Twice a year our team of professional counselors--three remarkable women from Missouri--go to northern Uganda to run intensive training courses.
Our graduates become outreach counselors; we provide bikes so they can reach distant villages. We know they are having a positive effect, because villagers report that they are better able to work, study and sleep. Our American team will keep returning to run courses because we have only just scraped the surface of local needs.
Network for Africa's outreach counselors have also become trusted messengers, passing on information about health, nutrition, family planning and women's rights. Civil society was destroyed during the decades of war, yet our outreach counselor team members are just the people who can help strengthen social networks and coping mechanisms.
The community's psychological well-being cannot be separated from their dire economic circumstances. Traditional farming skills were lost while people were in the camps, so we train women in sustainable agricultural techniques, enabling them to support their families. We raise funds to buy oxen, seeds and plows and teach environmentally responsible methods to grow traditional nutritious local crops, which then produce balanced meals for their children.
Sometimes we wonder how the women of Patongo find the emotional and physical strength, but as long as they do, we are honored to provide a helping hand.
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Rebecca Tinsley is a human rights activist and founder of the charity Network for Africa. She is a former BBC journalist and has a law degree from the London School of Economics. Her novel "When the Stars Fall to Earth" is published by LandMarc.
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