The South Sudanese civil war started in December 2013 after fallout between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, which caused Machar to resign and lead rebel forces against Kiir’s government. A peace agreement was achieved in early 2016, but the conflict erupted again in July that year.
According to the United Nations, there are currently more than 2 million South Sudanese refugees and more than 1 million of them are living in Uganda. Most of these refugees live in camps in the North of the country, close to the South Sudan border.
During March and May 2017, Aron Mwasile, Director of Incontext East Africa visited the refugee camps in Uganda to see for himself what the situation was like.
He compiled a full assessment report highlighting the following need expressed by South Sudanese Pastors now living in the refugee camps in Uganda: “The first challenge we face here as pastors is not knowing how to counsel the traumatized people while we are also traumatized, so we need special training as leaders on counseling.”
In response to this request, INcontext launched Project Restoration to provide trauma counseling and trauma counseling training to South Sudanese refugees. The project aimed at providing trauma counseling for the refugee pastors whilst, training them to do trauma counseling with their congregation members.
The training took place from 7th to 11th August 2017 in Arua district in Northern Uganda. The training was attended by 34 refugee pastors from Rhino, Bidi Bidi and Moyo refugee camps. Ugandan pastors form Arua and missionaries at the YWAM Arua base were also invited bringing the total to 39 participants.
The training was presented by three facilitators namely Louwrens and Theunis Scheepers from South Africa and Samuel Malish, a South Sudanese refugee trained by Petra Institute for Children Ministry.
INcontext International invited with Petra Institute for Children Ministry to conduct a five day trauma counseling and trauma counseling training for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
INcontext International raised all the funds for the project and the East Africa INcontext team under leadership of the Director, Aron Mwasile provided the necessary logistical support before, during and after the training.
YWAM Arua, made their base facilities available and provided us with a functional training room, comfortable accommodation, a kitchen to prepare food for the participants and utensils we needed to enjoy our meals. A very good working relationship was established with the base director, Mr. John Bosco Tuli.
Material developed by Petra Institute for Children Ministry were presented during the training:
a. We decided to focus on elements from the following training material: “Advocacy” – workshop, Foundational Children Ministry on entering the world of a child, and Walking with Wounded Children.
b. This was presented in 5 days (31 hours) to 39 participants.
The number of participants provided us with a big challenge because the content and methodology was not developed for a big group like this. We will have to limit future numbers to a ratio of 3 participants for every facilitator.
The outcomes for this training can be described according to the knowledge imparted, beliefs and attitudes that were challenged, and skills that were acquired.
- To know the common reactions to trauma
- To know the Post Traumatic Stress symptoms
- To understand that in listening it is all about the experience of the person sharing – The listener must show understanding, sincerity and acceptance whilst listening.
- To identify unhelpful responses in the process of listening to others
- To understand active listening
- To understand “healing community”
We believe that the participants have grown in their knowledge of all these areas and they were able to apply the knowledge to their own lives and context. This was evident in the way they described their own trauma and their experience in the past in trying to deal with it.
Beliefs and attitudes:
- To rethink your life and ministry in the light of Mat 18:1-4.
- To understand Jesus’s approach to the marginalized through the devotional stories.
- To enter the world of children through playing with them allowing the children to take the lead
They were challenged on their view of their ministry and their attitude towards marginalized people in their communities. Having to deal with children in a whole new way was also a big challenge. We saw how they moved from reluctant to engage with children, to playing with children whilst sitting on a chair and the child on the floor, to enjoying playing with children whilst sitting on the floor with the child.
Skills to learn and to practice:
a. Active listening
- Reflecting facts
- Reflecting feelings
- Showing Understanding, Sincerity and Acceptance whilst listening
b. Playing with children allowing the child to determine the place and the game.
They made good use of practicing the active listening skills when they had time to share real life stories with one another after the free and structured sandbox demonstrations.
Some of them really grasped the skill and applied it well. Most of them are however still uncertain and rely on unhelpful responses when they feel insecure. Most of them have shown a willingness and positive intent to work on this skill.
The joy expressed on the faces of the participants and the children during 1-1 games, the board game and the sandbox was evidence that the initial uncertainty and discomfort the participants had in having to play with children, disappeared as the relationship grew.
This was just a first step in a process to identify and develop tutors that can continue to present this training in the future. After discussions between the INcontext East Africa Director, The YWAM Base Director and the facilitators representing Petra Institute for Children Ministry proposed the following as next steps:
a. Samuel Malish and Aron Mwasile will do follow up trips to the camps to meet the participants and identify those who are using the skills they were trained on, before December 2017.
b. To have a follow up training for the participants identified above, if possible within next six months. The goal is to help them with more skills for training others. The training may be conducted for 10 days; the first five days will be for the participants identified through the follow up visits and the other five days will be for new participants (mostly teachers from the refugee camps). The facilitators will then involve the participants from the 1st 5 days to help with certain aspects of facilitation.
It is happening!
From 24 August – 7 September 2018 Theunis and Louwrens Scheepers will be joined by two other facilitators in Uganda (trained by Petra Institute for Children Ministry), and a team from the INcontext office in Tanzania to present the second phase of this project. The training will be conducted for 10 days; the first five days will be for the participants identified through the follow up visits and the other five days will be for new participants (mostly teachers from the refugee camps). The facilitators will then involve the participants from the 1st 5 days to help with certain aspects of facilitation.
We will aim to stay in the refugee camp among the refugees to get a better understanding of their circumstances and challenges as we equip, mentor and train them to “walk with wounded children” in this community.