Aref’s story: please note real names and some details have been changed to protect the identity and safety of individuals involved

9 year old Aref grew up in Daraa, Syria, where thousands of barrel bombs caused devastation to civilians and homes. In 2014/15,120 people were killed in Daraa alone. At aged 7, Aref saw a bomb drop by his house killing Mahmoud, his cousin and best friend. Until then Aref thought it was safe to play in the street by his home. His family hid underground for 3 days before fleeing to Al-Zataari camp in Jordan. There, Aref met Khaled, a counsellor trained by Luna to use a psychological technique for helping children overcome trauma (CATT). Aref had signs of PTSD; he was unable to talk about what he’d seen. He had regular flashbacks about Mahmoud’s death and was deeply anxious of losing anyone he loved. For 2 years he had nightmares. Any sounds he heard, he thought were planes. His concentration was poor and his thoughts were jumbled. He had great difficulty learning and avoided large groups of people. Khaled worked with Aref using CATT. After only 5 sessions, Aref could talk about what happened. He no longer had nightmares. He was able to play with friends and take part in social gatherings. He was able to tolerate sounds. He was able to work towards his goal of doing better at school.

Fundraising appeal for Jordan in April 2018

We have launched a special appeal to raise funds for our next project – check out our fundraising page at BT MyDonate. Here you can read the story of Aref,  and how Luna’s training helps local professionals to treat children who have escaped to Jordan but still suffer the effects of their experience of the war .

A Luna team is returning to Jordan at the end of April, to train another 20 CATT practitioners.  But not only that, three of those we trained two years ago will be joining us to be trained as trainers – ensuring the sustainability of effective one-to-one trauma work with Syrian refugee children, like Aref.

Luna works entirely with volunteers who share our values – so you can be share that not a penny of your donation will be wasted!

Our plans for 2018

Luna is now gearing up for more training in 2018, in Uganda, Liberia and the Middle East.

At the end of January Elias and Gerald will run a week’s course for 20 health workers and counsellors working in Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda’s Isingiro district. It is the biggest camp in South Western Uganda, home to over 180,000 refugees who come from Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia and Ethiopia. Most children living in the camp have had traumatic experiences. In August 2017 Luna trained four camp staff in Mabarara, and a follow-up visit by Elias in October showed that they were using the treatment effectively but were overwhelmed by the need. So this has become Luna’s top priority project for 2018, and we are trying to raise a total of £860 to fund the course. In future we hope to extend our work in the growing number of refugee camps all over Uganda.

In April we hope to run courses for both potential new trainers, as well as new CATT practitioners, in the Middle East so we can create the same level of sustainability as we have in Uganda.  The first will be in April in Amman, Jordan, where psychologists and counsellors trained in 2015 have been using CATT with large numbers of Syrian refugee children. Then if funds permit we will return to Turkey later in the year where there is enormous need.  We are seeking significant donations to fund this work, and launching an appeal in the New Year.

In February  we hope to join experienced Ugandan CATT trainer James Nsereko in Liberia to offer training to local mental health workers treating children who have been the victims of both civil war and the ravages of ebola. This is a totally new part of the world for us, and we are looking forward to building on the excellent work James has already done there for the Carter Centre’s Mental health Liberia Program.

Introducing Elias and our next phase of work in Uganda

The task of setting up and sustaining Luna’s training activity in Uganda has recently been given a big boost due to the efforts of Elias Byaruhanga, one of our experienced CATT practitioners and trainers, who took up the role of Uganda Operations Manager for Luna in April.   Here he is receiving his original Level 2 certificate from Dr Godfrey Rukundo and James Nsereko in 2013.

With Elias’ support, we are now in the midst of final preparations for our next training trip to Uganda in August. Trustee Brenda Graham will be travelling from the UK to support two training events, beginning in Kampala with a two-day update for our 9 Ugandan CATT trainers. This will take place at the PCO School at Butabika Hospital, which has been the location for many of our courses since 2012. Brenda will also have the opportunity to visit our many friends and colleagues at the hospital, and to visit the children on the ward on behalf of the ‘Friends’. After that, she and fellow-trainers will travel to Mbarara where Elias and his colleague Syson Katushabe will deliver a week-long CATT Level 2 course for 25 participants coming from Mbarara and the west of Uganda. The course is supported by the Mbarara Mental Health Team led by Dr Godfrey Rukundo. In particular, they are looking forward to meeting 10 child care workers put forward for training by community-based organisation Reach the Poor, which works in the Kasese district. This will enable first-line trauma treatment to be given to children and young people living in one of the poorest and still troubled parts of Uganda.

We wish everyone a good trip and successful trainings!

Pippa’s thankyou and goodbye to Kalerwe

It is me who must thank you, for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project in Kalerwe.  

My very special thanks go to Mirica Kisitu for everything she has done to make this project happen…her love, her passion, her faith, her commitment to the community of kalerwe and its children and especially those with special needs and disabilities. She has not benefitted in anyway from this programme, except to have me as her guest whilst I have been staying in Kampala, which has probably been a mixed blessing for her. You are incredibly lucky to have her devoting her time and energy to you and this community…there are not enough people  like her in the world.

Also to Iryn who has worked with us all week and arranged the programme. And a big thank you too to Peter for all his help during the week , his involvement in the workshops and for decorating this room for this celebration. 

Thanks also to Milly who has worked long and hard to help this project to happen, and thanks to Nanteza Harriet for cooking us lunch every day. 

And of course thank you to the trainers, especially Evelyn who I first met in January and very quickly realised what an amazing woman she is. I am so glad that she agreed to come and join us this week and share her knowledge and enthusiasm with you. It is amazing what people  have been able to learn in such a short time. 

You know, children with special needs have the same needs as all of us..

we need to be loved, 

we need to be valued for who we are, 

we need to be accepted, 

we need to belong, 

we need to be able to make a living, 

we need safety and security, 

we need to be able to bring our children up to be happy and healthy and to be able to support themselves later in their lives. 

For this we all need education and health and resources. 

It is an accident of birth that I was born in England, and you were born here. I did not choose to be born in one of the richest countries in the world You did not choose to be born here, but that is what has happened . 

On the outside we may look very different, our skin, our hair, our language, our culture, but beneath our skins we are exactly the same. 

We all have hopes and dreams and wishes. 

We are all deserving of respect and should be treated with dignity. 

We are all equal. 

No one is better than anyone else 

We all have the potential to do good or bad..depending on how we choose to live our lives.

 No one should be more valued or respected because of what he or she has, what clothes they wear, what kind of car they drive, what kind of home they have, but by the person that they are,  by their character , what is in their heart and by their actions.  

I don’t care how much money you have, or don’t have, how big or small your home is, how many clothes or shoes you have ,

what I care about is whether you live life to the full,

 whether you make the most of the talents and and opportunities you have, 

whether you are able to go the extra mile for someone who needs it, 

whether when you are pushed down you get up and try again, and again and not give up, 

whether you treat  others with kindness and love in your heart. 

 I have met and stayed with people during my stay here who have put me to shame by their strength and resilience under such difficult circumstances, whose ability to enjoy life despite its challenges and  generosity of heart and spirit is second to none.  

We have many things in the UK that you do not have here in Kalerwe, and it is tempting to think that money is the solution to all problems . I want to tell you that relationships matter as much if not more. It is relationships that sustain us in good times and bad times, that give us joy and peace and make us feel that we matter, that we belong and that we are loved.

in the UK relationships often break down , due to conflict, competitiveness, jealousy, even the use of social media which results in people spending more time on their phones than actually talking to people face to face and spending time together, leaving people isolated from family and friends and feeling lonely and depressed. 

We all have the opportunity to make a positive difference, to make  the world a better place during the short time that we are in it.

something as simple as a kind word or a smile, 

raising a happy child, 

looking after a family, or 

using the skills and talents we have for the good of the community,  

We must take the opportunities that are offered to us and make the most of them. We must take control of our own lives and be leaders in our own lives and not wait for someone else to sort our problems out, to tell us what to do.

This is what the people have  been doing during this week of training. Despite living in extraordinarily  difficult and challenging circumstances, they have come together to learn skills that will help them to make a living for themselves and their families. They have shown hope and determination and enthusiasm, some even arriving early to practice the skills they are learning. 

I would like to remind you of the story that Jesus told about the sower and the seed. 

Some seed fell on hard ground and shrivelled up and died. Some seed fell on rocky ground and grew very quickly but was weak and bore no fruit. But some seed fell on rich ground and grew strong and bore much fruit. I believe that what we have done this week in kalerwe has been sowing of seeds in rich ground and that it will bear much fruit. 

Now it is up to you. I have helped to start this project, it is up to you to continue it.  I have done my part, now it is up to you. This  project needs to be self sustaining, which means you will need to work out how you will fund the rent for the building, the cost of future training and of materials that you will need, for maintenance and security. It will take time and patience and a lot of effort but I believe you have all these things and with God on your side, anything is possible. 

It is said that if you want to go quickly on your journey, you should go alone. If you want to go far you should go together. You need to support each other and then this project will thrive and grow and be strong and be something that you can be proud of because it will be your efforts that have made it a success.

I hope that we have also planted some seeds of friendship that will continue to grow, not just because of the money that I have given, but because of the people that we are and the connection we have made with each other. 

It has been an honour for me to be a part of this exciting new venture, and I wish it every success in the future. I hope to come back one day to see how it is getting on and to see how you are all doing. Till then I thank you and bless you. Mukama abakuume


Luna in Uganda – Brenda’s blog

We arrived at sunny Entebbe after an overnight flight on friendly Ethiopian airways via Addis Ababa. Moses from Red Chilli welcomed us as returning visitors and helped us with heavy bags through puddles to the car – it had rained all morning. November is wet here!

We settled in at Red Chilli – everyone as friendly as ever and remembering us amongst the many who stay here for wildlife trips, NGO work, and placements at Butabika Hospital. It’s a calm, low-key place to stay where we can mull over what we’ve achieved each day and the concerns we are left with.

Making plans

What are we here for? We spend our first morning confirming what we hope to achieve overall and planning who we need to see, while getting through pots of strong Ugandan coffee. We have some appointments already, and others to make. We discuss Pippa’s project, which sees her leave us to stay with Mirica, the headmistress of St Nicholas school, and work with parents and teachers on understanding the impact of trauma on early child development. She has also initiated a sewing project for parents – making re-usable menstrual pads – which could give them a source of income and help their daughters stay at school.

Stella will go to Mbarara to support our Ugandan CATT trainers in setting up a Level 2 CATT programme. Brenda will go to Lira to support our special project at Bishop Asili Counselling centre. We make travel arrangements, and hope we don’t get (too much) rain on the way. Stella is going by coach, reassured that there are new vehicles on the route. Brenda will go by car with Fred, an experienced and trusted driver who talks Ugandan politics, has strong views on corruption, and faces a moral dilemma if stopped by traffic police – an everyday experience for drivers in Kampala’s challenging traffic jams – to pay a fine with all its bureaucracy and hassle? Or to pay a smaller bribe?

We walk to Butabika hospital, enjoying the sunshine in January, hoping to see the Head of Nursing for the children’s ward and ask if we can visit. Stella will be reporting back on progress to the CAMHS Workstream of the East London NHS Link, as well as the ‘Friends’ of the children’s ward. It would be so easy to walk straight in, but this is one of our many concerns – visitors can enter the ward grounds without challenge and the children are still able to open the gate and leave the grounds with no consistent vigilance for their safety.  However, we notice that more guards are around keeping an eye of things, and everyone we speak to tells us how much better cared for the children are, and speak of many improvements over the past year.  We are so pleased to hear this. Over the coming week we hope to find out more, and to return again before we leave. Watch this space for more news as our visit proceeds!

Now planning for another trip to Uganda in November 16

Plans are now well in hand for a multi-purpose trip to Uganda in November involving Trustees Stella Charman and Brenda Graham, with play therapist Pippa Gray.  In addition to visiting Butabika Hospital and our ‘Friends’ volunteer Dismas, on the children’s ward, we will be running a follow-up day from last January’s successful training in partnership with St Luke’s Chapel. We also want to meet up again with our recently qualified CATT practitioners from Kisubi University, and our 10 Ugandan CATT trainers.  Stella is making plans for the next phase of CATT training in Mbarara, that is accessible to people from the west of Uganda. Brenda will visit Sister Florence and the children of Bishop Asili Counselling Centre in Lira, and Pippa will be working with Miricia and the children at St Nicholas’ School in Kampala. So it will be a very busy two weeks, but certain to be rewarding, and valuable in progressing our work and sustaining Luna’s ongoing commitment to the children of Uganda.

Luna’s got a new special project!

This is Miricia, Head Teacher of St Nicholas’ School in Kampala. Luna has a commitment to extending our reach and bettering communities as a whole, with special projects as well as our training programmes. Our new special project is focused on St.Nicholas’ School in Kalerwe, Kampala, Uganda. Support for the school will be led by play therapist Pippa Gray, who visited it last January and trained some of the staff including the Miricia. The school has close links to Luke’s Chapel at Butabika Hospital, which is already a training partner of Luna’s.

St. Nicholas serves 500 children in one of the poorest areas of Kampala, and due to the high level of poverty, many children are at risk of violence and extreme stress, and the associated trauma. Not only can many children in the area not attend school due to lack of funds, there is no provision for children with special needs, and many of the women are sex workers facing high levels of community and domestic violence. We want to help Miricia, the Head teacher of St. Nicholas’ School, to ensure a better future for the children and the rest of the community. We are planning to raise funds for the school that will aid special needs provision, proper parent education regarding early years development, proper sanitation facilities and resources including a new toilet refurbishment and feminine hygiene products. This is an ongoing project, so look out for future ways you are able to help Pippa and Luna make a real difference to the community around St. Nicholas’ school!

Meet Maya, our new general operations manager

May I introduce myself? My name is Maya Skaarbrevik.  Last week I started my internship as the General Operations Manager here at Luna Childrens Charity. I have just completed my second year at Sussex University for a Bsc in Psychology with Cognitive science, with my favourite topics being Developmental and Social Psychology. The work of the charity really spoke to me as I recognise the vital importance of access to mental health services for vulnerable children from my background as a psychology undergraduate, and I truly believe in what Luna is able to achieve globally. When I’m not busy with my studies, I love travelling. Last summer I took an interrailing trip all around Europe where I was able to visit 8 countries in 25 days!

This summer I aim to get a lot done for Luna. This includes shadowing our clinical operations manager, creating and maintaining ongoing communications with our practitioners abroad, and helping to develop our fundraising initiatives and strategies. I also have a lot of interest in the Middle East, having family from this region and visiting this area many times. I hope to get the ball rolling with future projects dedicated to this region as it is clear that there is much need for work and recognition of children’s rights.

I look forward to all my work with the charity, and to get in touch or keep up with any updates you can check out our Facebook page and Twitter profiles.


Stella and Masa meet at Syrian mental health conference

On 24th April Luna Chair of Trustees, Stella Charman, delivered a workshop in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Luna’s CATT training in the Middle East. The occasion was the 4th conference of the Syrian Association for Mental Health (SAMH). This is an independent association of Syrian psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers that is registered in the UK. Luna’s first training course here in Turkey in 2014 was organized with the help of Dr Masa Alkurdi, who is a SAMH Committee member, and is pictured here with Stella. The conference was very well attended and featured some deeply moving and compelling presentations. It was wonderful for Stella to have this opportunity to meet again with many people who had trained with Luna on CATT courses in Turkey, and Lebanon in 2015, and to hear how they have applied their new skills in treating children. We heard much about how the crisis in Syria, described by one speaker as a ‘catastrophic moral failure of humanity’, has affected the mental health and undermined the security and rights of Syrian children and their families, both inside and outside the country. But it was inspiring to hear how so many dedicated and committed people are coming together to collaborate and rebuild educational, health and community structures and support networks. Luna is privileged to be playing a small part in this investment in the long-term recovery of the Syrian people.