African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

Report from Kenya #286 – July 4, 2014

Letting Out the Hurt Within


Note: This is a report by Kirsten Mandala, AGLI extended service volunteer, on the recent HROC workshops in Northern Uganda for people who have been affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. The next step in this program is to have two of the best participants from these workshops attend the HROC International Training which starts July 27. We have $1000 of the amount needed for this, but need an additional $1000. If you would like to contribute to this, please send a check to “Friends Peace Teams/AGLI” with memo notation of “Ugandan HROC participants” and mail to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104. Thanks. Dave

Letting Out the Hurt Within

A Program Evaluation of the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities Program in Gulu, Uganda

By Kirsten Mandala

African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams


After decades of terror inflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, Northern Uganda is coping with the aftermath of extreme violence. The combination of heavy use of child soldiers during the war, substantial civilian casualties, and mass displacement has left the Gulu community in particular struggling to manage extensive trauma.

To aid the reintegration and reconciliation effort in Northern Uganda, the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams offered four basic Healing and Rebuilding our Community trainings and follow-­‐up days, along with two community celebrations. The workshops brought together Formerly Abducted Persons and members of the community or victims of war in the Awac and Koro sub-­‐counties, where trauma, PTSD, suicide, and mental illness are rampant.

This report aims to measure the impact of these preliminary workshops, examine needs and challenges in the community, and make recommendations for the future of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities in this region.


In 1986, when Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) took control of the country, a rebel movement formed in Northern Uganda. This movement, initially created to resist the NRA conquest of Northern Uganda, transformed into what is known today as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Under the leadership of Joseph Kony, the LRA turned against the northern communities it had formed in in order to recruit child soldiers and maintain control. Over the course of the war, Kony and the LRA abducted more than 30,000 children in Northern Uganda. Once abducted, children were forced to kill members of their families or communities. Young girls were abducted to become sex slaves or wives for his officers. Claiming spiritual powers, Kony brainwashed abducted children -­‐ the LRA is often referred to as both a cult and a rebel movement.

After an unsuccessful campaign to stop the LRA, the Ugandan government forced all residents of Northern Uganda to leave their villages and enter Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. More than 1.7 people lived in these IDP camps (enduring rampant disease, violence, and extremely high mortality rates) until 2006, when the LRA and the Ugandan government signed a Cessation of Hostilities. Though peace talks ultimately failed in 2008, the absence of a persistent LRA threat in Uganda allowed the UN to begin the six-­‐year process of repatriating IDPs.

The journey home has been a long one. After two decades of war with the LRA, Northern Uganda is struggling to find peace and reconciliation. Residents of Gulu still strive to rebuild a normal life after the civilian population, which was displaced into IDP camps, and the abducted children, who had become child soldiers and child wives of LRA commanders, returned home.

Despite the forced nature of child soldiers’ actions and conscription, they received hostile receptions from their home communities, who incurred losses from the atrocities committed by these children. These child soldiers and wives, known as Formerly Abducted Persons (FAPS), now live in isolation, suffering from trauma and lacking in developmental growth and life skills due to years away from their families and communities. The Awac and Koro sub-­‐counties in particular have seen an unusually high number of suicides, with a prevalence of trauma, PTSD, and mental illness as contributing factors.

Program Background

Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) is a community-­‐based trauma healing initiative initially developed to address the consequences of ethnic hatred and violence in Rwanda and Burundi. The basic 3-­‐day workshop was developed in 2003 as a way of healing the internal wounds and broken communities that the war left behind. Through an exploration of trauma, loss, grief, mourning, anger, trust, and hope, HROC invites participants to discover their ability to heal themselves and begin to rebuild their communities.

HROC is based on the following key principles:

▪ Principle 1: In every person, there is something that is good.

▪ Principle 2: Each person and society has the inner capacity to heal, and an inherent intuition of how to recover from trauma. Sometimes the wounds are so profound that people or communities need support to reencounter that inner capacity.

▪ Principle 3: Both victims and perpetrators of violence can experience trauma and its after-­‐effects.

▪ Principle 4: Healing from trauma requires that a person’s inner good and wisdom is sought and shared with others. It is through this effort that trust can begin to be restored.

▪ Principle 5: When violence has been experienced at both a personal level, and also at a community level, efforts to heal and rebuild the country must also happen at both the individual and communal level.

▪ Principle 6: Healing from trauma and building peace between groups are deeply connected. It is not possible to do one without the other. Therefore trauma recovery and peace building efforts must happen simultaneously.

Evaluation Methodology

This outcome evaluation intends to provide an overall assessment of the effectiveness of the Healing and Rebuilding our Communities program in Gulu, and its ability to meet the program objectives. It assesses the effect of the program on the workshop participants and the community at large. This report aims to document the lessons learned, challenges, and successes of the program as well as recommend next steps.

A theory of change was established along with program goals matched with indicators to assess the success of the program during the evaluation, drawing from methods found in Reflecting on Peace Practice1 as well as Reflective Peacebuilding2.

The evaluation uses qualitative measures, employed through individual interviews. Data was collected from participants and local leaders to gain a sense of program effectiveness (through measurement of indicators) over the course of three days.

Twenty-­‐two participants and three community pastors were interviewed in the two targeted sub-­‐counties.

Certain challenges and limitations had a bearing on the findings. Interviews were conducted through a translator, impacting the accuracy of gathered information. Quotations duly suffer vocabulary and grammatical limitations. Quotes in this report have been edited for grammar and clarity. Interviews were recorded to preserve the translation and sentiment as precisely as possible.

Time was limited and interviews were planned through affiliated community leaders, which meant the selection of interviewees was neither comprehensive nor random. While it was hoped that a larger range of community members (including families and non-­‐participants) could be interviewed, the interviews scheduled by local partners were participants only. It was therefore impossible to externally verify the claims made by participants about the change they themselves had experienced.

Despite these challenges, the answers across the twenty-­‐two participants and three community leaders suggested both repeated patterns and distinct similarities. It can therefore be concluded that the findings reached in this report are accurate.

1 CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. (2009). Reflecting on Peace Practice: Participant Training Manual. Cambridge, MA: CDA.

2 Jean Paul Lederach, R. N. (2007). Reflective Peacebuilding: A Planning, Monitoring, and Learning Toolkit. Notre Dame, The Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Mindanao, Philippines: Catholic Relief Services.


In order to measure the success of the program, the interview results are measured against the overall goal (as seen in the Theory of Change) as shown through the individual program strategies.
Theory of Change

Training members of the Gulu community in Healing and Rebuilding our Communities will help participants cope with their own trauma, bridge divides in the larger community, and reintegrate Formerly Abducted Persons.
Program Objectives

The following strategies are program objectives for the training of 80 individuals in Healing and Rebuilding our Communities workshops:

” Strategy 1: To help people know and understand trauma, its effects, and how to deal with traumatic events and effects

” Strategy 2: To help people know the continuity of life after trauma and to help people build trust and hope

” Strategy 3: To help people strengthen a sense of community and build bridges between victims/community members and FAPS

Community Need

In order to understand the healing process, it is important to first understand the suffering of the people of Northern Uganda. Before examining the attainment of program objectives, it is therefore necessary to explore the need in the Gulu community for trauma healing.

The interviews underscored the prevalence of trauma in the community. Each participant told a story of pain and loss, acknowledging that there were many people still suffering in their communities.

This war has affected me, especially my family, so much. There were two siblings in my family-­‐ me and my brother-­‐ and my brother was killed by the rebels, shot by a gun. Even my own children were impacted; one was killed by the rebels when they came to loot our house. They killed my child. Much of my property was taken. It wasn’t easy to live after that. By the time war ended, by the time I was coming to normal life, my wife committed suicide. She died and left me with two children. It was really terrible-­‐ it was not easy. This training was the first thing that tried to help me somehow.

The war had an especially pronounced effect on young people. Younger individuals interviewed had routinely experienced loss of childhood. Their educations were interrupted. They watched parents and loved ones get literally chopped to pieces. As young men and women were often the targets of rebel abductions, they lived in fear. If they themselves were not abducted for a period of time, they had siblings, friends, or cousins who were abducted and often spent much of the war walking every night to towns to avoiding capture by rebels.

I was affected too much by this war. My father was a local leader. And at that time, these rebels didn’t want the local leaders. So there was one day, we were in out house then the rebels came in the night. And they came and they took my father, brought him out, and they killed him by cutting him up to death. My mother was also killed at that time. And so us 7 children became orphans. So it was very hard for us to survive. It was not easy for me to come back to normal life because after the death of my parents, 3 of us children were abducted. They took us to the bush, one of my brothers escaped and came back, one was killed in the bush, and I lasted 7 years in the bush. And when I came back, I came with a baby. So it wasn’t easy to come back to normal life.

Many of the Formerly Abducted Persons struggled to explain the extent of their suffering. Few were willing or able to open up in the interview setting to elucidate the atrocities that they had witnessed or committed during their time in the bush.

It was one day in 1996 when the rebels were passing through our village. Among many people, they abducted me and my brother-­‐ I spent about a year and two months in the bush, before I was able to come back home. But my brother, still up to now we don’t know whether he is alive or dead. It happened one day when people were gathered; we were eating. The rebels were upset at a man for riding a bicycle. So they tied his arms and legs, then one person stood on his legs and beat him to death. We stayed there for about four hours. Then the rebels abducted two of us to take the dead man away. We had to carry the dead man, and we had to place it where the rebels were going to pass. So when we reached there, they cut that man into pieces. When we were passing, they wanted us abductees to step on that man when we were walking to encourage us. So that when we saw those kinds of things in the bush, we wouldn’t mind anymore. So we had to step on that man’s body. That was just the beginning of the things that happened to me during the time I spent in the bush.


The following findings show that all of program objectives were achieved with indicators of positive results. The interviews yielded overwhelmingly glowing testimonies, suggesting the three program strategies were all successful.

Transformation was seen at individual, interpersonal, and community levels, suggesting sustainable change. These results suggest the Healing and Rebuilding our Communities program had meaningful impact in the Gulu community.
Strategy 1
To help people know and understand trauma, its effects, and how to deal with traumatic events and effects
Understanding and Coping with Trauma

The cornerstone of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities is giving participants a good understanding of trauma, allowing HROC to enable communities to cope with their own trauma. Local understanding of trauma is often extremely limited, so a significant emphasis of the program involves teaching the causes, symptoms, and consequences of trauma, as well as exploring how to heal from trauma.

Of the participants surveyed, none had a good understanding of trauma going into the program. While a few participants had heard trauma discussed on the radio or by international nonprofit organizations, the vast majority had not even heard the word ‘trauma’ before HROC.

Before HROC, I had only heard the word trauma, but I didn’t know what it was. I just had heard it over the radio but did not learn what it meant until HROC. But when I got to the workshop here, I know what trauma is, what causes trauma, the consequences of trauma, and all of those things. Trauma in my own understanding is a situation that somebody is unable to get over, because the mind, everything gets confused. The person loses hope and does not understand all the things that are happening around them.

A common theme of the interviews was individual surprise at the realization that they themselves were traumatized. Many described symptoms that they discovered during the workshop were linked to their trauma. Understanding this behavior was essential to learning how to minimize the symptoms and cope with the effects of trauma.

I didn’t know about trauma before HROC. But according to the training, I found that trauma was there in me. I realized through the training that all this is trauma, and it has been there since the war. Sometimes I am with people and my body just starts shaking and I do not know where I am. I did not know what was happening to me, but I now understand that this is trauma because of this training. This training has helped so much to show me how I can address the trauma when it comes. When the trauma comes now, I normally think back to the training so that the trauma goes down. When I shake and forget where I am, I think about the exercises from the workshop and can come back to real life.

All of the interviewees asserted that because of HROC, they are now able to manage their trauma. They no longer felt overwhelmed by trauma. Many felt themselves to be completely healed, or at least well along their journey of healing. By understanding trauma and talking about their pain, participants felt that the burden could be managed.

I believe HROC is helping because out of sharing, that’s how you can heal and start a good life. Because if you keep the trauma and pain within yourself, like I used to, it leads to problems. If I had not opened up and talked about what I felt and went through, I would not be healed. I would not remember that I am loved. But when we come together for HROC, talk to each other, understand each other, and start letting out the hurt within, that’s when we can be healed. And I believe if we can continue doing that, abductees and communities can be healed from their trauma and get back to normal.

Strategy 2
To help people know the continuity of life after trauma and to help people build trust and hope
Life Continues

An important component to healing from trauma is the recognition that life continues after a traumatic event. Individuals suffering from trauma often become completely overwhelmed by their trauma, and there is little recognition that there is life apart from or after trauma. HROC strives to remind participants that individuals suffering from trauma can again have a life without trauma.

Before the workshop, my brain was confused, my body was weak, I had difficulties making decision, and I never had interest in life. My trauma consumed me. After the training I got to know that in life, we undergo different situations. Today we may get something good, tomorrow we might get something bad. But that does not mean it’s the end of you. If you get something bad, you can just keep going and get to the next step.

Trust is a major theme of HROC, explored through trust walks and outlining trees of trust and mistrust, which allow participants to examine the causes and effects of trust and mistrust on a community. HROC is based around the principle that to help individuals form communities of healing, trust must be built.

There was a tree of trust and a tree of mistrust that was drawn. It was upon us the participants to see whether the direction we are taking is a tree of trust and mistrust, and realize what kind of fruits we are bearing. Through that, I was able to realize that trust is good and learned how to start building trust. I went home and started sharing with my husband. He started sharing with me, and we started trusting each other. Now we help each other through our problems and we are doing much better individually and our relationship is stronger.
The Future

Part of the continuity of life is the recognition that there is a future to hope and plan for. Hopelessness is a common phase of the grieving process, a symptom of trauma in which individuals have no motivation or optimism for the future. Part of coming back to a normal life is re-­‐inspiring a sense of hope for and consideration of the future.

Because of the training, I feel like I’m going to do something with my future. The hope that I had lost, I gained it back. What is now on my brain is that whatever condition or situation comes along, I can handle it with confidence and strength. I can overpower the situation and push ahead.
” Strategy 3
To help people strengthen a sense of community and build bridges between victims/community members and FAPS
Community Integration

To specifically address and overcome the divides in the community, HROC brought together groups of Formerly Abducted Persons and community members deeply impacted by the war.

Several participants discussed how unique it was to attend programming as mixed groups of FAPS and community members, citing that many organizations work exclusively with FAPS. Everyone interviewed was positive about the way HROC brought people together.

It’s good to be [in a workshop] with abductees and non-­‐abductees. Because in the past, some people didn’t have good relationships with some of the abductees. So it’s good to put them together and do this kind of training. We have learned much from each other. Among those who attended the training, they are doing well. But other people who are outside, they still don’t have good

relations. There is some separation. It’s good if the training continues-­‐ it will unite them together and bring them together, which would be good. It can bring change in the community.

Testimonies from both abductees and non-­‐abductees highlighted the continued tension in community relationships and the progress HROC was starting to make in the repairing these relationships.

The challenge is that you find that many people have had relatives or loved ones who were abducted and who have been killed in the bush. And so those people fear any abductees who have come back from the bush, they will think that the abductee might be the one who killed their loved one. That’s the challenge we have in our communities. So there is not a lot of trust between community members and abductees. That’s why this training should continue. The people who did not attend should be added on this training, so that the number can be extended-­‐ if many people can get the training, then more people can spread the training. Then abductees and non-­‐abductees can live together easily.

The abductees interviewed found acceptance in the workshop. They felt listened to and understood during the reflection time when they shared personal experiences. Several admitted that they opened up publicly for the first time about participating in killing and how that had affected them. Abductees remarked on the change in the way that people in the workshops and the community started treating them in their everyday life.

As someone who was abducted, I have trust for the people of the community now for the first time. Really there’s a change. Even here in my community, sometimes people used to fear even to dig [farm] near or with me because these people thought I might cut them with my hoe. But now after the workshop, we are living well together and doing things together. There are very many of us abductees. For those of us abductees who have gone through the training things have improved, but those who have not yet gone through this training still have problems in the community. People are starting to understand slowly, slowly-­‐ but not all. There is still some trouble with those abductees who have not yet attended the training and in the community there is also some trouble. HROC is very helpful, because it brings people together and when people share their problems together, it helps you to see how you can help each other. In the end, we are all the same, abductees and non-­‐abductees.

Program Challenges and Limitations
Size and Scope

As this project consisted of just four workshops, a significant limitation, according to the participants, was the small number of people reached. While the individuals who participated feel they experienced change, rebuilding communities with such little participation is a challenging undertaking.

This program should continue so that many people who can benefit from this training. There are very few who received this training, but so many are suffering!

The magnitude of the suffering over such an area renders the four HROC workshops merely a small contribution to the healing in Northern Uganda. Participants also suggested that HROC needed to be brought to other sub-­‐counties in the Gulu area.

HROC should go to other sub-­‐counties, so that other areas are reached. People all over Northern Uganda, you know that they really need assistance. So people in other areas should be identified and if possible, HROC should also assist them. We are going out and telling people what we have learned, but there is only so far we can go. We need HROC’s help to spread the healing further.
Community Resources

Because HROC does not have a longstanding program in Uganda, participants also did not feel they had resources or people to go to in case they wanted additional help or support. They did not feel like the facilitators were available after the workshop for advice or counseling, as the lead facilitators were from Rwanda and Kenya.

If possible, we should have people that we can go to if we need more help. The facilitators, they are gone. If HROC can get a counselor or facilitator that can be here to listen, so if you have been hurt you can go to them tell them your problems, that would really help us. We have been trained, but then everyone left and there is no one for us to go to.

From the Participants

Many questions were posed to elicit constructive criticism for the program or identify any negative impacts the HROC program might have had in the community.

The participants unanimously encouraged Healing and Rebuilding our Communities to continue working in Uganda and expand programming. All of the interviewees asked for more workshops to help reach more people, and many asked for further workshops to continue to build skills so that participants could better help their communities.

I want to thank HROC for coming to this part of Northern Uganda. HROC should not stop the training, but trainings should continue so that many people are reached. Because those people who have been trained cannot reach everybody, especially people in the villages. HROC should continue to train people, so that other areas are reached. There are people here who are really desperate. There are people in so much pain. If you look at them, you know that they really need assistance. If HROC continues to assist needy people on the ground, there can be real change in Gulu and all of Northern Uganda.

In addition to more basic and advanced trainings, a few participants asked for support in forming collectives to continue interaction and healing but with an added skill building or income generating component.
From the Evaluator

This evaluation suggests that continued healing work is Northern Uganda is deeply needed, and that the program has been remarkably successful in both affecting change in individuals and beginning to transform communities.

The following are recommendations if the African Great Lakes Initiative decides to build a more permanent Northern Ugandan HROC program:

1. Train Ugandan facilitators-­‐ to build a Northern Ugandan HROC program, HROC should establish a local facilitator base. As three Ugandan individuals will be trained at the International Training in July 2014, this is already underway.

2. Identify a locally based contact person or coordinator-­‐ coordination was difficult during the evaluation (and based on conversations, for the trainings themselves as well). If one of the facilitators is willing to serve as a Northern Ugandan point person, it might be easier to organize and coordinate future activities.

3. Further training (Healing Companions)-­‐ offering more advanced Healing Companion training will help build up community capacity in the absence of more facilitators.

4. Incorporate mediation training-­‐ when participants were asked about current challenges to peace in their communities, every interviewee cited issues of

land disputes. Land disputes remain a huge challenge in rebuilding after the war. During the years spent in IDP camps, understanding of boundaries and ownership, which had been common village knowledge, was lost. Conflicts over land have been tearing communities and families apart, sometimes even resulting in siblings killing each other to gain access to land.


The Theory of Change for the Gulu HROC program states, “Training members of the Gulu community in Healing and Rebuilding our Communities will help participants to cope with their own trauma as well as bridge divides in the larger community and help reintegrate Formerly Abducted Persons.” As seen in the success of the program strategies, Healing and Rebuilding our Communities has helped individuals and two sub-­‐counties in the Gulu area address their trauma and promote healing and reconciliation in the community.

HROC helped us learn to unite as one, so that we help one another. After having the knowledge of trauma healing, we can go and educate our neighbors, and carry the knowledge to our homes. All things must start with ourselves and our homes. You start healing within you, and then it goes out to others. If HROC can facilitate people further to move out, I think people here can cover a very good distance. Sometimes it’s very hard to understand that getting knowledge is better than getting something physical. Because the knowledge we get is much better than the tangible things we get. Those things will fail, but knowledge will not fail and will keep progressing on and on. If more workshops could happen, if more people can be called and talked to, it would not just be for the few. If other areas can be covered also, it would make work easier so that healing could spread all around. If this could happen, I have hope that all of Northern Uganda could heal.

More HROC is needed in Northern Uganda. In order to have meaningful impact in the Gulu area and to attain the Theory of Change, a more stable program in Uganda should be built. Trauma is widespread, communities are divided, and healing is critical.

Leave a Reply