What is Esther doing in Uganda?

Hello, I am Esther Mulders and for the past four weeks I have been working as a volunteer therapist at the Bishop Asili Counselling, Rehabilitation and Community Centre in Ngetta, near Lira in northern Uganda. Whilst I am here, I am also doing research for my MA in the Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation at the University of Sussex. My subject is the mental wellbeing of women who became a mother during the time when the Lords Resistance Army was active and threatened this part of Uganda.

I graduated as a psychomotor therapist in the Netherlands exactly five years ago, and worked for a few months before I left to travel in South east Asia. Being both disturbed and inspired by all I saw and the people I met, I wanted to try to contribute my knowledge and experience to the development of mental health care worldwide.  Within my MA I am focusing specifically on issues related to global mental health. In my work I use creative approaches to help people change their lives, including activities such as movement and dance. Here in Uganda I am working with the symptoms of trauma through body awareness, body control and relaxation.

Just like Sister Florence and her fellow sisters of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, who run the Counselling Centre, I also want to empower women and young people within their communities by promoting resilience, leadership and independence. Not only do many of the Centre’s clients struggle with the legacy of the violence inflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, they also continue to face the threat of violence in their daily lives. Many of the women I am working with have, for years on end, had to run from their homes and flee ‘into the bush’  (ie any landscape covered, often by long grass, anthills etc which is located at a safe distance from inhabited areas). Whenever they heard a gunshot they would take their children and run for their lives. Violence is still a central element in the lives of many of these women, one of whom still regularly flees into the bush from her home with her children, only this time in an effort to escape the violence inflicted on them by her husband.

In these first few weeks, I have taught grounding techniques to help these women stand physically and mentally firm and strong, the use of voice and body in verbal and non-verbal communication, helped them to identify and express personal boundaries, and to  offer and receive support.  This is an alternative form of therapy, not based on talking but on helpful experiences and practicing new things.  I want the Centre’s clients to get to know and understand their own bodies, themselves and each other a bit more. This approach does not replace other forms of counselling – instead it supports and supplements other programmes, and brings a new dimension to work aimed at relieving mental health issues. It also fits very well with Luna’s work in promoting the use of rights-based approaches to trauma treatment, such as CATT with children and young people.