Francis Lokong is monitoring & evaluation officer at CVT Uganda.
Numbers tell an interesting story at CVT Uganda. As the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) officer here, I work with data to track the mental health symptoms change of counseling clients across five symptom areas: anxiety, depression, PTSD, somatic and behavioral functioning problems. The clients are survivors of the two decade-long Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in Northern Uganda.
When I first began working with client data, I was surprised to see that each quarter an average of 90 percent of the clients showed decreases in all the symptom areas between their intake and their three- and six-month follow-up appointments respectively. Inwardly I was surprised and skeptical about the data validity because in my 14 years of M&E work, I have never seen an impact of any project activities within such a short span. I thought, “This is magic.” How is it possible? I actually stopped to ask myself, could there be a problem with data validity? So I decided to go and see for myself.
I joined the counseling team for two counseling cycles in the field and got to see the healing as it happens in real life. By the time the clients reached Session 8 out of 10 total, I started noticing radiating smiles and improvement in the level of personal hygiene among the counseling clients. By Session 10 all the clients were sociable and they talked freely to each other. I was amazed by the change, and I whispered inwardly “this group therapy actually works.”
Coming from a different professional background, my field experience with CVT energized me all the more. I am a teacher by profession – I have a Master’s degree in Education with a specialization in Research, Monitoring and Evaluation. I recently studied public policy at the master’s level as well. Before coming to CVT, I had worked for 14 years in various M&E portfolios in Kenya and South Sudan, primarily in the field of Education. I had not worked or heard stories from victims of torture directly.
I come from the same area in Uganda as the victims of LRA war, but I was physically out of the country during that time – I was in Nairobi for my studies. Because of this, I heard stories of the conflict second hand and in segments. Those who were allied with the government had their versions, those related to the victims had theirs, while those who were displaced to other parts of the country had their own. I remained confused about whom to believe. In June 2016 after the conflict broke out in South Sudan, they closed the project and I came back home to Uganda. I saw an advert for a position at CVT and I got interested. I saw that CVT extended mental health care to Ugandans who had survived the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. I felt this was not just a job in my M&E field, but also an opportunity to hear from victims themselves what happened during the LRA war. So I joined CVT.
My role at CVT is centered on data entry, data analysis and drafting monthly and quarterly reports. An important part of my role is feeding the data about client mental health outcomes into the decision-making process during planning. So it is important that the data covers changes from beginning to end of each client’s care cycle. During the cycles, I joined the psychosocial counselors (PSCs) in field activities with clients, and at the onset I saw people who looked very troubled, aloof and with poor personal hygiene . . . the characteristics associated with people who have lost hope in life.
Of course, because of my work with the data, I had already read about the changes in those five symptom areas after CVT’s counseling. When I am computing the data, the information has one meaning. But when I saw it physically, I could see how lives are changed though group therapy. I compared what I saw to what people looked like at the time of intake – now they were comfortable, they had smiles on their faces. They were completely radiating healing. I remember one particular client who came in with very difficult problems. He could not look at his group members straight in the eyes, he rarely spoke, and he came to the sessions smelling of alcohol. His personal hygiene was very poor. However, by Session 5 he had made improvements. In his words during the closer of the cycle, he said that being able to share in the group had transformed his life and helped him restore relationships with his family and loved ones. This man had been abducted by the LRA when he was very young. From the data about his trauma history, I realized that he witnessed horrific traumatic experiences and torture in the hands of LRA. The abuses he suffered were too much for his age.
This work is very meaningful for me because I am from this place. It is so rewarding to see the level of resilience in these clients who have lived with the effects of traumatic events until they found CVT. What CVT offers is unique. After the LRA conflict subsided, the population of Northern Uganda who were in the internally displace person (IDP) camps for a decade went back home. Many NGOs that were providing material assistance left the region though a few are still here providing livelihood skills. But CVT is here. We listen to their stories and hear about these abuses. These clients survived and they live on. I call that the highest form of resilience. I see so much hope working here as an M&E officer. I have files that have details about all the issues clients have survived: beating, rape, witnessing people being killed, forced to kill other people, portering and walking long distance in the bush every day— some as long as five years. But I get to see that through this counselling the clients have found happiness.
At CVT Uganda, we have a team of counselors who are energetic; they are very much willing to sacrifice every day to travel to the villages to provide group and individual therapy and follow-up on clients’ progress, sometimes traveling as far as 100 km. This team is willing to bring care to the neediest, in the most hard-to-reach areas.
That is hope.