Visit in Uganda

The journey to our project in Uganda was my first trip to the Pearl of Africa in the 5th year of Children For Tomorrow Uganda.

My name is Catharina Voss, I am 26 years old and I am the project manager of CFT Uganda replacing Dr. Fionna Klasen for this year. Last year, I got my Master degree in psychology at the University of Hamburg. In the future, I would like to work in the field of public health promotion in children and adolescents, therefore I am very glad to get the chance to work with CFT and make some international experiences in this field.

In Uganda I was warmly welcomed by our staff in Gulu and I could join them in their affairs in the ambulance but in the schools as well. In Gulu CFT has five staff. First of all, our country project manager Dr. James Okello. He always tries to increase the quality of mental health services for children and adolescents in Uganda with support of Suzan- a psychiatric nurse, two community psychologists- Patrick and Dorine as well as Milly our indispensable office assistant. In the last year about 150 children and adolescents between the age of 0 and 21 reached our ambulance.

Besides the clinical work in the ambulance Patrick in a team with Dorine runs school programs to talk with the students but the teachers as well about mental health topics. The interventions are very different depending on the age and developmental stage of the children and adolescents as art therapy, sport activities as well as debating clubs. In the last year about 400 children and adolescents participated in these interventions. One of our main goals is to reduce stigma of mentally ill children and adolescents and to give explanations for mental health problems in war- experienced individuals. We point out that mental health problems can affect everybody, but especially that they can be treated effectively.

One encounter with a patient in the ambulance stayed particularly in my mind. There was this young guy Rafael, 16 years old, who thought that he was bewitched by his stepmother. The reason was that after a visit of his stepmother to a traditional healer, he felt that he could not move anymore, could neither drink nor eat as well as could not see any pleasure in his life. Our staff listed empathically to his problems. Afterwards they explained him that his impairment and problems are symptoms of a well-known and treatable mental illness called depression. Rafael had lost his will to live due to a lot of bad experiences in the last year as losing two of his brothers, meeting in biological father, where he raised hackles from his father and stepmother, and losing all his school fees for the whole next year. But after getting a better understanding of his symptoms and accepting the therapeutic interventions, he is now on the mend.

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