African Great Lakes 

Basic Trauma Healing Training with the Self Help Widow Group of Layik Community, Gulu, Northern Uganda

By Maniraguha  Solange

 A Participant shared her experience the night after Day 2 EMPTY  CHAIR exercises.

As seen in project reports, community Domestic Violence, Gender-based violence, and the impact from rebel groups are largely remedied by highly funded programs targeted by non-governmental organizations. In today’s case, a group of women came together forming a self-help group after waiting in vain for external bodies, therefore, created an internal support system for themselves. 

Not very far from the traumatic mass gravesite of the Lukodi massacre, the group’s story started way back in the NRA war of 1981 that lead the current Uganda government, followed by experience from the LRA 20 years’ war and lately the DV, GBV, and land disputes that arose while they were returning home from the Internal Displaced Camps (IDP Camps) that were dissolved in 2007/2008 

The widow’s group herein referred to as the self-help group started praying together, led by a participant of the 2018 HROC basic training with refugees and host community they started sharing their pain and helped counsel and comfort each other.

This workshop has shaded a new green light to the HROC program, the elders of the community that was not much targeted in most of the training conducted in the community now turned up to be key to fostering healing from an individual, to family, and to the community as laid down in the HROC Approach’s black and white. From this training, facilitators realized that the elders of the community were key in nurturing community resilience since they support their children who are the adults, the youthful parents who are their grandchildren, and the grand grandchildren.

The following training was conducted in the post-COVID 19 lockdown periods, therefore, Standard operating Procedures laid by the GoU were followed. To foster social distancing, the number of participants was reduced to 15 from the usual 20. Participants were provided with a face mask and were made to practice regular hand washing throughout the workshop. 

Two basic pieces of training were successfully conducted with the community of layik village, north of Gulu city in the neighboring community of the tragic Lukodi massacre of 2004 the planned number of 30 participants and 4 community leaders due to the new normal of the CORONA VIRUS pandemic. However, 36 participants were trained and the group allowed few men from the community to join.

HROC Facilitators arrived on Sunday evening of 7th Feb 2021 and sat together for a team-building activity. The training kicked off immediately on Monday the 8th Feb 2021. Here, the group realized individual trauma relating their stories from the first day during the discussion of the symptoms of trauma that was participatory lead by the participants while being guided by the facilitators. This happened before they were made to share their painful past with the large group on the second day.

The second training followed from the 11th Feb 2021. Each took 3 days, this group started crying in tears on the first day during the devotion, they testified that the first group was sharing with them what happened in the training during the evening fire gathering (Wang Oo). They seem to know more and had set their own expectations. They had more testimonies on the third day.

Stories from the workshops

  1. I eloped and had three children with my husband but my husband stubbed me with a spear. I was unconscious and my husband’s brother took me to the hospital, afterward, I run and returned to my parents’ home, where I was called a prostitute for not staying at my marriage home. My father took me to the police but they told him to keep me home saying I could be killed if I return to my husband, from home my brother also cut me with a panga saying I was a prostitute. I am alone but I will never get another man again since he may stub me again. This training helps me to share this story because it had been a big wound in me. I also had a grudge with everyone at home including my only son who does not help me with any work. Last night I slept very well, missed all the radio programs I used to listen to at night and I didn’t even get out to urinate.
  2. I had delivered a new baby, the LRA rebels came as we were asleep and lit the house. Then stood at the door cutting those running out with panga. I broke the wall from the back and run through I was shot after but I kept on running until I was recaptured. My sister was killed in front of me in a rush as the UPDF approached. They came face to face with the rebels and the gunfight began immediately. The LRA shot me and left me for dead. I was later taken to the hospital from where my four brothers traveled back to see me. The day they left a neighbor came and reported an ambush on some strangers, on to realize that the four boys were my brothers living away from home. My only brother murdered in cold blood drove me mad, I was admitted to the regional referral hospital where the doctors reported that it was trauma. On returning home, my elderly daughter fell sick and died after a week of sickness, this is why I look like am mad.
  3. After I delivered my last born, I was injected but the syringe got stuck on my buttock, doctors struggle to remove it for a long time. After it got off, my buttock started swelling to a size that couldn’t allow me to put on panties. It was very risky by then so we could sleep in the bush and return in the early morning. One day my husband came when he was so drunk, it was getting so late yet the rebels like crossing by our compound. In that period of the insurgency, all abductees were being killed. I decided to sleep in the house since my husband could hardly move with me to the bush. My painting buttock woke me up by 3 am, when I got up I went and stood at the door, little did I know that the rebels were approaching the compound. As I was standing at the door, they pointed their guns at me while I continued standing there. They left perceiving that I was probably a ghost.Immediately my husband got up and curried our son called a toy. Rushing inside, I went and grabbed the blanket covering the little child and run hopping that had grabbed it with the baby. As we were hurrying to the bush my husband uncontrollably started coughing loudly. The rebels overheard and return to the compound, they destroyed everything and burnt all the huts.  The next day the community gather to warn us about getting to the bush hideout late saying we were revealing their positions to the rebels.
  4. The wounds in my hands are so painful. Going about with this pain is the worst thing a person should have. When I lost my husband, I went through a lot of things. I lost all her children. I got married at 14 years. I came back with two children but was told to go back with the burdens (children) I had brought. I cried, and they also fought me in so many ways. I only asked God if the death could start with me. I have a lot of pain in me and feel oppressed. I buried one of her children after the death of the father.
  5. She grew up as an orphan her mother left her and went away gave birth to other children that she has never seen them. She got married. Lost her father in 2000 she went through a lot lost her husband too and now left with orphans to take care of.
  6. I lost my children and in the end, found out I was HIV positive. I was advised to take that with me. Land issues also came in where my land was also in the process of being taken but later I was supported helped at the end. I decided to sell the land forever and used the money to build the iron sheet room that is staying in and finally, I have decided to let things go. Thank you for this training.

Testimonies

When I came, I had a lot and this thing was not giving me peace. When the training began, it started touching the pain, and as I talk now, I feel relief and light from the pain. So many women come to me with family issues, I now know how to listen to them well and help them. Sometimes Amelia helps me with counseling the younger women.

I had a pain so deeply in my heart after losing my husband, I had really thought my husband would replace my father in my life. Now I have got another hope from this training.

Everyone passed on and felt so lonely for years, and from now I have hope, though am lonely, I aver realized strength and ability to face the difficult situation.

I used not to be happy, joy came back to my life and I feel relieved. God should bless you and whoever thought of this training.

I used to live like an orphan but when I came to this training, I now feel better (light) everyone died, left with a child who never use to come home but yesterday and people also helped me.

The training helped me know how to handle my temper and change for a better tomorrow.

Following the above stories, few individuals were identified and shall require special attention to remedying the violence they are going through that are most likely to lead to loss of life. 

To the large group, healing companion training is a necessity at this moment, since their journey of healing required more close supports and they need to be equipped with knowledge on how to become ambassadors of resilience in their communities.