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Notes from the Ground

Update from Uganda: The CVT Gulu Team Reaches out to Assist

Published May 11, 2020
Uganda Village

“CVT makes you feel important. It helps you begin to see yourself as important,” said Ayaa*, a young woman who lives in the Omoro region of northern Uganda and who came to counseling sessions that were conducted by the CVT Gulu team near her home.

Especially today, as the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, CVT is taking steps to connect with clients and find a way to continue care as safely as possible. All staff are working remotely conducting phone check-ins and remote counseling with clients and sharing guidelines from the government and World Health Organization (WHO) regarding COVID-19.

The Omoro region, among many districts in the north, was deeply affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war. The people living in this area were repeatedly targeted by the LRA for abductions, rape, torture and every atrocity imaginable. From its beginning in the late 1980s until the time the war slowly came to an end after twenty years of violence, it was estimated that the vast majority of people living in this region had been abducted, with nearly two million forced to live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

CVT’s Gulu team has been extending care to survivors here for more than ten years, starting in 2009 when many people who had been abducted were trying to return to their homes and reintegrate back into their communities. This was not easy.

“Community is central to life in this region,” said Gabriele Marini, psychotherapist/trainer. “Many clients came back home and tried to reintegrate into their communities after they had been forced by the LRA to commit atrocities.” These actions were known and not easily forgiven. And because the LRA war went on for two decades, enormous trauma, grief and deep misunderstandings were created among family members, neighbors and the extended community, all of whom had been forced to fight to survive and to keep their families safe during those years.

For younger people, the impacts on their lives during very young ages took many forms. For years, children became “night commuters,” leaving their homes at bedtime – including children living in the IDP camps – to sleep in more fortified buildings in the nearby towns in order to prevent abduction. And of course, thousands of children were abducted and used as soldiers and sex slaves.

For women, returning home brought multiple challenges and, for some, isolation. “Many women who had been held in sexual slavery and bore children faced ostracism,” Gabriele said. Their children were not accepted, and the mothers faced so many societal obstacles that the only solution for many was to give her child from a forced marriage to her mother to raise. Gabriele said “These children have little resources invested in them and are always longing for both faraway parents.” He added that the mothers struggle with anger from their experience of rape as well as guilt for the difficult paths their children now face.

Across the region, the need for care was great. When CVT began to reach out to survivors with information about rehabilitative care, word spread quickly that people were finding help and feeling better.

“I thought there is no need for me. I’m worthless. I should not continue living,” Ayaa said about her time before she found CVT. “Wherever I went I had a lot of worries and sadness.” But she came to CVT. “After that, even when it was difficult in the sessions, I still persisted. I came. I opened my heart. I told the difficult things I went through because I felt supported.”

Today, thousands of clients have found care at CVT Gulu, and the numbers continue to grow. The Uganda team has expanded to establish a center in Bidi Bidi settlement, where refugees from South Sudan come for care. Steps to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been implemented there as well, and efforts to remain connected to clients continue remotely.

And clients appreciate the care they received and call for further expansion. “There are still many who need service,” Ayaa said. “There are so many.”

“This counseling should not stop with us.”

Read Ayaa’s full story here.

*Name has been changed for confidentiality and security purposes.

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