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.

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.