Commitment to the healing of the children of Syria – from our CATT course in Jordan

It is easy to give you the basic facts about Luna’s CATT training courses: the number of trainees, how many passed, how much we have spent of your money, and so on. But it is MUCH harder to convey to you the feelings that emerge during the course. Participants speak to us about their own experiences of war and displacement, and the suffering of the children they work with. We have heard many sad stories over the past week in Jordan, where roughly 1.3 million refugees live in camps and among the local Jordanian and long-term Palestinian populations. This time the Luna team did not visit one of the camps, but we saw children begging in the streets and among traffic in Irbid, a city of around 1m people only 20k south of the Syrian border. Our training partner, the Syrian American Medical Society, provides psychological and emotional support with a strong, skilled team of psychologists and counsellors. The majority are refugees themselves. So they placed enormous value on learning a new way to treat children more quickly and effectively. They were delighted with the CATT protocol, which uses children’s imaginations and ability to develop and heal through play. As we shared our skills together, we became aware of our common humanity and resilience in the face of adversity. By the end of the week we all shared in a sense of hope that the Middle East will soon emerge from its current trauma. We had a wonderful end-of course celebration during which we were presented with this beautiful red rose created by Marwa and signed by all the participants, which now represents our shared commitment to the emotional healing of the children of Syria. red rose small

Please support DJ – great new volunteer for the Butabika children’s ward!

During our recent visit to the children’s ward at Butabika Hospital, our play therapist Pippa Barlow was asked by Reverend Dismas from St Luke’s Chapel to assess the suitability of a new prospective volunteer  to work with the children.  Also called Dismas, we have nick-named him Dismas Junior or ‘DJ’ for short!  He was one of the trainees on our therapeutic play course, and  turned out to be a fantastic addition to the ward. The plan is for him to partially replace Rebecca Akello, who is currently studying on the CAMHS programme. Luna has already provided St Luke’s with funding for his first month’s expenses. This means that for the next month, he will be volunteering on the ward 4 days a week, playing with the children and providing much needed stimulation and engagement, as well as being a continually present friendly face while staff are rotated between hospital wards. The cost of continuing to fund him for a full year is just £800, so if everyone with a personal connection to the ward were to contribute in the region of £30, with gift aid, we will be able to meet this cost! Amy has put together a btmydonate page for this purpose, which transfers these dedicated funds directly to Luna, and would be grateful if you would consider making a contribution in this way.


Uganda 2016 feedback and photos

This was one of the longest and most complex trips that Luna has undertaken to date. It had several objectives, as follows:

To deliver a Level 2 CATT training course for 15 social work and psychology students, in partnership with the University of Kisubi, 10th-15th January: we awarded 10 level 2 certificates and 5 level 1 certificates Kisubi University L2 course participants

To facilitate data collection via face-to-face interviews with Ugandan CATT practitioners for the Social Impact Assessment on Luna’s work in Uganda over the past four years. Prior to the trip, a total of 14 online questionnaires had been completed. In Uganda, researcher Sapphire Allard completed 7 in-depth interviews.  Observation of the training courses and first-hand experience of children in Lira added a depth of understanding and context to the research, which Sapphire found very valuable. We expect her final report by Easter.

Under the umbrella of the Friends Project, to deliver a 2-day course in therapeutic play to volunteers working on the children’s ward at Butabika Hospital in partnership with St Luke’s Chapel. This 2-day course had been requested in February 2015 by Reverend Dismas and was planned and delivered by Pippa Barlow with support from Amy and Stella on day 1 (9th January) and from Brenda, Stella and Saffy on day 2 (16th January). The 36 participants included a number of hospital nursing staff who heard about the course and attended on their own initiative. We were delighted to have attracted such large numbers. The course included plenty of practical play activity such as the making of play dough and sand tray work, as well as theoretical inputs. As a consequence, several people signed up to support the ward as volunteers and nurses due to work there gained skills and motivation.WP_20160109_13_41_27_Pro

To provide mental health awareness training to teachers at the GEMS International School which supports educational activity on the children’s ward at Butabika Hospital

To review the implementation of child protection and safeguarding arrangements at Butabika Hospital, in conjunction with the East London Link

Under the umbrella of the Bishop Asili Counselling Centre Project, to visit the Centre in Lira and deliver school materials collected by Mill Chase School, Bordon plus donated children’s clothes. This three-day trip to the north of Uganda enabled Luna to meet the children who have been the recipients of CATT and of educational and sports equipment donated by Mill Chase School, and to learn more about their needs. The work being done there by Sister Florence Achulo and her team is exemplary.

Our team

Five people represented Luna for all or part of this trip, which was led by Trustee Stella Charman. Trustee Brenda Graham supported the Level 2 training course and child protection review, and visited the Bishop Asili Centre in Lira. The Level 2 course at University of Kisubi was led by experienced Ugandan trainer James Nsereko and recently-qualified trainers Sister Florence Achulo and Sister Bridget Kokiambo. Play Therapist Pippa Barlow planned and delivered the play course at Butabika Hospital with the help of Friends Project Manager Amy Maynard. They also spent time working on the ward and training nursing and other staff there to interact more effectively with the 20 children who are currently inpatients. They also assessed and trained Dismas, the permanent new St Luke’s weekend volunteer. Sapphire Allard undertook 6 face-to-face interviews with Ugandan CATT practitioners and trainers in Kampala, observed one day each of the Level 2 training and play training, and accompanied Stella and Brenda on the trip to Lira where she also interviewed Sister Florence.



CATT L2 training in January at Kisubi University, Kampala

We are now in the final phase of our preparations for Luna’s next trip to Uganda 6th-23rd January to be led by Stella Charman.  We will be working with an all-Ugandan team of CATT trainers led by James Nsereko on a course at Kisubi University, thanks to the support of Dr Evarist, Dean of Human and Social Sciences (pictured). We will be training 15 social work and counselling students of the University. In addition, our new volunteer play therapist Pippa Barlow will be offering a course in therapeutic play for church volunteers on the children’s ward at Butabika Hospital. She will be accompanied by her colourful team of puppet assistants! Click here to meet them! The trip will also incorporate other work on behalf of the children of Butabika by Friends Project Lead Amy Maynard and Trustee Brenda Graham.  We will also be interviewing a number of our trained Ugandan CATT practitioners  for a social impact assessment on Luna’s past four year’s work in Uganda, led by researcher Sapphire Allard. So it will be a busy two weeks, but hopefully a very fruitful one for both our Ugandan partners and Luna as a whole, and we are really looking forward to it.


Janet, aged 15: A semi-fictional case study

Many of us hear frequently about charities and the work they do through our very frequent exposure to media: Through urgent appeals, fundraising initiatives, and routine campaigns on our TVs, phones, and computer screens. While this is very useful and indeed necessary, what we see does not always allow us to relate directly to who or what the charity aims to help.

The following case study is a semi-fictional narrative adapted from some of the recent cases Luna’s CATT practitioners in Uganda have worked on. The reason for us using a semi-fictional story lies in the sensitive nature of our work, and the vulnerability of the children and young people accessing our trauma treatment.

“Janet used to live in a town in Northern Uganda, with her Mother, Father, and two little brothers. Her hometown had been affected for years by conflict, and was particularly vulnerable to attacks by groups of rebels, such as the Lord’s Resistance army.

One day, the worst happened. Janet was at home when rebels attacked the town, and she was dragged outside of her home along with her family and neighbors.  Her family did their best to fight, but could not overpower the rebels, and Janet witnessed the death of her Father and both of her brothers. The rebels then burnt down their home, and raped Janet and her mother. 

Thankfully, both Janet and her mother were able to escape after that.

At the time of beginning her therapy, Janet was two months pregnant, a result of being raped, and was living in a refugee camp. One of the support workers attending to those in the camp was a Luna-trained CATT practitioner, and she was able to help Janet to come to terms with the horrific events she had witnessed and been victim to.

Before starting CATT therapy, Janet was feeling too frightened to be able to sleep or eat. She had become very quiet and had several fainting attacks. She felt unsure of everyone around her, especially men. By building up trust with the support worker, she was able to tell her story, and to begin processing her traumatic memories.

After several weeks working with a Luna-trained CATT practitioner, Janet’s level of distress became significantly reduced. She felt calmer and more like herself again, and was able to begin coming to terms with her new situation.”

Although this story has been fictionalized, it is based on the real experiences of some of the children Luna’s CATT practitioners in Uganda have treated over the last two years. Of 50 of the cases we have received from Uganda, 27% of the children and young people had witnessed the killing of family and/or neighbors, and 24% had been the victims of rape and sexual abuse.

Planning for Uganda in January 2016 – back to Butabika


Right now Luna is making plans for a big trip to Uganda in January 2016.  Not only will we be running a Level 2 training course at Kisubi University College, Kampala, but also two other training courses for volunteers on the Butabika Hospital Children’s Ward and staff of the International School which offers education on the ward. Added to that, we are interviewing past trainees in order to understand better the impact of our work on their practice, the children they treat and their families. There are now 44 trained CATT practitioners in Uganda, and 8 trainers. Here are some of them when they were awarded their children’s mental health Diplomas last February.

CATT practitioners in Kampala February 2015

It will be a busy two weeks for us in Uganda next January! Please help by supporting Amy and Saffy’s appeal via MyDonate.

The Friends of Butabika Children’s Ward

In June 2013 the Friends of Butabika Children’s Ward project was set up by Luna in response to concerns raised about the care and treatment of child patients at Butabika National Referral Hospital, Kampala, Uganda. The ward is the national training centre for mental health professionals in Uganda, and the main training site of Luna’s former training partner, East London NHS Foundation Trust. You can download and read the full story of Luna’s work via this partnership here.

The Friends of Butabika Children’s Ward was established as a children’s rights project, due to one of our charitable objects being: ‘the advancement of education of the public in children and young people’s rights in part, but not exclusively, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’. It aims to support the ongoing efforts of Ugandan professionals to promote changes in cultural attitudes and provide high quality care and treatment in the context of severe material limitations and very low staffing levels.

The project received the support of Dr. David Basangwa, Director of Butabika Hospital; Dr. Alyson Hall, CAMHS Programme Project Director; Cerdic Hall, Chair of the Butabika Link Committee; Cecilia Dricuru, Children’s Ward Manager and the London-based Ugandan Diaspora Groups.

The objectives of the Friends are:

a) To finds ways to improve, promote and monitor observance of the rights of children who are patients on the children’s ward of Butabika Hospital

b) To improve the relationships and living conditions of children who are patients on the children’s ward of Butabika Hospital

c) To raise and provide funds which will further the achievement of a) and b)

Support for Luna’s initiative to set up a group of Friends to provide practical help to the children and staff on the ward was given by the Chair of the Link, and formally approved by Luna Trustees in June 2013.

To date, Luna has contributed almost £15000 towards East London Foundation Trust’s training initiatives at Butabika, raised almost £2000 for Butabika Children’s Ward and visited four times in person, providing children’s mental health and level 2 and 3 CATT training both independently and as a part of the East London Foundation Trust’s larger training initiative for hospital staff, and volunteering on the ward to provide enrichment to the children and practical help to staff. Further, our funds have contributed towards the provision of valuable material resources for the ward, including materials for a playground, classroom, and a sensory room for the children, as well as providing educational and enrichment activities via a local volunteer three times per week, and support in the return of a number of abandoned children to their families and communities in Uganda via a local social worker. At present, a total of 18 people have committed themselves to becoming ‘Friends’ of Butabika Children’s Ward, and we are ever seeking to expand this number.

Kisembo, aged 16


Kisembo and her story are fictional but based on the real experiences of many young people in Uganda with whom our CATT practitioners work. The reason for us using a fictional character and case study lies in the sensitive nature of our work and the vulnerability of the children and young people accessing our trauma treatment.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted Kisembo when she was walking home from school at the age of 10.

When she was 11 years old she was forced to kill two other children whom had tried to escape and been caught. If Kisembo hadn’t killed them she would have been killed herself.

She has witnessed and been forced to take part in unimaginable acts of violence, and at the age of 14 was taken by one of the rebel commanders as his ‘wife’. He would regularly rape and beat her and often allow the other commanders to watch.

There were times when Kisembo wished her life would be taken instead of having to endure what her reality had become. But, at the age of 15 she fell pregnant. Even though this baby had come from a monster she knew she had to protect her unborn child, so at the first opportunity Kisembo fled the camp. She fought hard not to look back and was convinced she would be caught and beaten to her death.

After what seemed like days Kisembo stumbled into an army barracks in complete disbelief. Her prayers had been answered! She was taken to a rehabilitation centre for other children like herself where she was given care, love and support.

But Kisembo could not forget the things he had seen and done; she was haunted by sounds, smells and noises daily, constantly in a state of horror. Nighttime was the worst! She would wake from her sleep screaming to find she had messed her bed, resulting in Kisembo not only being filled with fear but also deep shame.

With training and support in the CATT technique, rehabilitation centres can give children like Kisembo a second chance. Supporting them to work through their trauma, move forward and live full and happy lives once again.

CATT is a powerful intervention that can repair emotional damage and reduce the risk of untreated trauma destroying the life-chances of affected children and disrupting further the communities in which they live.

Layla, aged 9

Drawing of boy

This is the true story of Layla (names have been changed) who is being supported by Bishop Asili Counselling Centre in Lira, northern Uganda.

Layla does not know exactly where she was born, but when she was very small she lived in a rebel camp in the forest. Her mother Alice was abducted from her village by the Lords Resistance Army and married to one of the adult soldiers. When Layla was 5, Alice was able to run away because the rebels left Uganda, but Alice was rejected by her family, and so had nowhere to go. She could not look after Layla and left her under a tree, where she was discovered and brought to live with a foster family near Lira. When Layla was found she was very frightened and wouldn’t speak. Her mother had completely disappeared and she had been alone for some time. Layla was brought to the Bishop Asili Counselling Centre near Lira. The Centre helps women and children who have been the victims of the LRA. Sister Florence is the Director and she treated Layla using the CATT approach, enabling her to speak again, go to school and join in a range of activities. She is doing extremely well with her studies and especially enjoys singing and dancing.

Kikongo, aged 8

Kikongo and his story are fictional but based on the real experiences of street children in East Africa with whom some of our CATT practitioners work. The reason for us using a fictional character and case study lies in the sensitive nature of our work and the vulnerability of the children accessing our trauma treatment.

Kikongo is a street child and was born on the streets of an East African city. Both his mother and father were street children too and unable to care for him. He has no idea who his parents are or of their whereabouts, as at the age of 5 he found himself alone and having to fend for himself. For Kikongo, his family are the children that sleep huddled together in the city corridors at night and beg around the market centers during the day. These children offer friendship and support to each other and many of the younger children on the street look to the older, more experienced street children for help and guidance. Unfortunately, this can often put them in very vulnerable and dangerous situations!

Often the older boys would steal money and food from Kikongo and one day when he decided to fight back he was taken into an alley way, beaten and raped by two of the older street boys. Kikongo was left lying on the ground in a very bad way. But early the next morning he had to find the strength to fight for his place in the market otherwise he’d have no chance of getting money or food from passersby. This event was not a one off for Kikongo and he spent the next few years barely surviving on the streets of a bustling city; he was consumed by fear, frequently reliving these traumatic events through nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. He was always looking over his shoulder on the lookout; he never felt safe and was in a constant state of anxiety.

At the age of 8 Kikongo was begging in the market place when two local volunteers approached him. After hearing he could get a change of clothes, a free meal and if there was space a bed for the night he followed them to a centre for street children. Kikongo had been given a chance to escape his dangerous life on the streets but was so traumatised by his experiences that he was unresponsive to any emotional support offered by the volunteers. He kept running back to the streets and the way of life he knew, he didn’t trust anyone. The volunteers continued to visit Kikongo on the street; they talked with him, occasionally managed to persuade him to spend a night at the centre and slowly they developed a trusting relationship. Eventually, Kikongo agreed to begin a fun and creative activity with one of the volunteers that would help him process what had happened to him and feel more positive about his life. After finishing the CATT process, taking no more than a couple of weeks of regular sessions with the volunteer, he expressed feeling that it was now possible for him to begin rebuilding his life. His awful memories of the street no longer paralysed him with fear, instead he felt empowered to move forward. Those awful things had still happened but he wasn’t going to allow them to rule his life anymore!