Many of you will have seen our recent video announcement about the opening of a new office in Oruchinga, in Uganda's South West. It's a very exciting season for us and so we've asked Sophie, one of our field facilitators, to write a blog about her first few weeks on the ground there.
Carl, our founder, has written an open letter about their move back to the US and the on-going work in Iraq.
What is Trauma, and how does it affect the individual, the family and the community, and why should we focus so much time and effort into trauma Care? David Wilkes (MSW), our Head of Programs in Uganda, answers these questions for you in his latest blog post.
Dear Tutapona friends,
I wanted to take a brief moment to personally let you know that our family has decided to proactively evacuate Kurdistan today due to the political environment. We, along with many other international aid workers, are taking this pre-emptive step in light of some strong responses to he recent Kurdistaeferendum vote.
After speaking at length with our colleagues in other organizations and gathering advice from people in the know, we’ve decided to evacuate to Athens, Greece for what we ope will only be a week or two. We are hoping and praying this situation resolves quickly and does not escalate any further than it already has.
It is our heartfelt desire to continue serving the most traumatized people in the world and we want to get straight back to that work in Iraq as soon as we can.
For now, please know our family is safe and confident that we have made the right decision.
We humbly ask for your prayers for this country and people e love so much. We also ask that you pray for our teenage girls who are so graciously taking this uprooting in their stride. And finally for the work of Tutapona in Iraq, that God would protect our staff and field teams as they continue on in our absence.
I will send another update in a week or so when I have more information.
Recently we had the privilege of hosting 13 counsellors and pastors from America as they came to build into our staff through a staff retreat. We wanted to give you a glimpse of what they got up to so we'll let Guest Blogger, Sarah Jane Holsteen take it away.
The One Healed First: A Reflection from the Tutapona Staff Retreat
Written by Guest Blogger Sarah Jane Holsteen
“Imagine you come across a man starving to death and a man with an infected wound on his leg,” Rosemary said. “Which will you help first?”
Rosemary and I sat in the dining room of Kingfisher Lodge in Kichwamba, Uganda. From the restaurant window, we watched sun and shadow play over the forests of the Western Rift Valley below. In the distance, the Rwenzori mountains peeked through cloud. Rosemary’s word-picture painted a stark contrast to such natural beauty.
“You will first save the man with the wound,” she continued. “Because when he heals, he will have a scar, and every time he sees it, he will think, ‘Ah, Sarah helped me.’ But you give the hungry man food and four hours later, he’s hungry again. He won’t remember your help.”
“Many refugees in the camps ask us for food, water, physical aid. That’s the role of UN-sponsored agencies. But Tutapona is unique. We tell people, ‘Why give you food when you’re so traumatized you don’t eat the food you have? You must first heal the wound in your mind.’”
Two days earlier, Rosemary and her team had welcomed our group of thirteen Americans to Tutapona’s office in Nakivale Refugee Settlement. We’d attended the closing session of their latest Empower program. The 200-strong group of Congolese refugees attested to the vast need for trauma counseling in Uganda’s refugee camps (an ideal group size is twenty!). Participants shared testimonies of being able to recognize and address the trauma of violent conflict and forced displacement in their lives, demonstrating Tutapona’s deep impact.
Now, in the peaceful afternoon at Kingfisher, Rosemary concluded with a smile, “The healed man will remember through his scar. It’s like every time we look at the cross; we remember Jesus died to save us.”
From June 4-June 7, Tutapona staff from Kampala and the Rwamwanja, Nakivale, Gulu, and Adjumani field sites gathered at Kingfisher Lodge to step back from the year-round intensity of providing psychosocial support to thousands of East African refugees. I was one of a small team from partner churches in Wisconsin helping to facilitate this retreat. Our team objectives were simple: listen, learn, encourage, pray.
Tutapona staff share deeply in others’ suffering and give sacrificially in their care for the wounded; they do so with creativity, wisdom, and faith. The retreat was designed to allow these practitioners reflection and rest. So, as facilitators and staff, mizungus and Ugandans, brothers and sisters, one church, we rested in God’s Creation: swimming, taking walks, and going on safari in nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park. We rested in God’s Redemption: singing, praying, and reading Scripture. We shared stories and unanswered questions. We laughed and cried together.
And, as Rosemary had instructed me, we remembered Jesus. We remembered that “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19) and “By his wounds, we are healed” (Is. 53:5). We saw the scars of crucifixion and in them remembered the power and hope of resurrection.
Interested in learning more about the work of Tutapona firsthand from Carl Gaede? Below are the dates and locations for where you can find us this summer:
Sunday, June 4
The Bridge Bible Church, Somerset, WI
Wednesday, June 7
First Baptist Church, New Richmond, WI
Sunday, June 11
The Village Church, Baldwin, WI
Sunday, June 25
Faith Community Church, Hudson, WI
Sunday, July 9
Living Word Lutheran Church, Marshall, MN
Monday, July 10
The River, River Falls, WI
Thursday, July 20 Prairieview Church, New Richmond, WI
Sunday, August 13
Los Altos Grace Brethren Church, Long Beach, CA
Every once in awhile, it's important to take a step back and reflect. Tim Manson had the opportunity to do this, to come face to face with so much need and to challenge himself by examining his life. You can do this too, by reading his thoughts below. Be challenged. Be inspired.
This week I traveled up to a small dusty, hot town in Northern Uganda called Adjumani with Helen and our girls. Both of us had work we needed to do up there, but not enough time to take separate trips, hence the decision to take Hope and Eva. It was a decision that I quickly regretted. Eva winged through the short flight and the moment we landed we all began to sweat profusely. The temperature was somewhere in the late thirties and our hotel turned off the generator at midnight, so off also went the fan. The girls simply couldn’t sleep, not having been in heat like this before, so of course Helen and I didn’t sleep either. I lay there feeling frustrated about all manner of things until morning. Then I had to go to work. Interestingly, by the end of the week I was glad we’d taken our girls with us. I think in a very small way it helped me to relate to what we saw.
On our first day, I spoke to a young boy of perhaps 11 who said he and his siblings and mother had walked for 3 weeks to escape from South Sudan. That’s fairly typical. Many of the oldest and youngest are dying on the way from a lack of water, shelter, and food. Internally, I feebly related that to my arduous hour-long flight. Self-constructed, tarp-covered stick shelters are the accommodation option out there in the settlements. Blazingly hot in the day, less than rain-proof and small. As we walked through them I considered that their occupants were not camping, these were their homes for the foreseeable future. The war in South Sudan is showing no sign of letting up.
These refugees don’t have jobs to go to when they wake up in the morning. Helen pointed out to me a man lining up for food in one of the reception centers who would have been about the same age as my dad. As I tried to imagine what this would be like for him my mind balked. Most of these refugees were poor back in South Sudan but now they’re poorer. They have walked away from their land and houses and have had to leave behind the possessions they couldn’t carry. No prospect of self-sufficiency for a long time ahead for the man in the queue. Instead, he has to put out his bowl and accept what is given.
A mum that we interviewed had lost one of her children in the fighting. As she said it, I let the weight of that sentence sink in for a moment. What mother should have to lose a young child in some senseless war? What would my response be if one of my daughters were shot? No time to grieve for this lady, until she was an alien in a foreign country.
At our last location, Quinn Neely was doing some filming for us put up a drone to get some aerial footage of Palorinya refugee settlement. Looking at his screen as he filmed from a couple of hundred meters up gave an insight into the scale of this migration. Clusters of shelters stretching out for miles and miles along the banks of the Nile River. Each individual shelter holding a little family, but on the screen they were simplified down to thousands of tiny white dots. This one settlement currently holds 142,000 people and it opened 3 months ago, in December. Had the drone been able to climb higher, it would have picked up the 5 settlements of South Sudanese refugees spread out across Northern Uganda holding over three-quarters of a million people. Still, South Sudan’s leadership can’t sort their differences out and a bit north of where we stood about 2,000 more people cross the border each day. My way of relating to that number is to think of my high school, Macleans College, daily walking into Uganda. This has been happening now for 9 months.
As we left, I understood more fully what an immense privilege that is. We can leave. These people are in Adjumani right now because they have, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond- 'no choice'. They cannot go home after a few days, and they have nowhere else to go. They have no idea if they’ll ever be able to go home. Home may well have been altered irreparably.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful house in Kampala with my family intact and safely with me. I have a job. I have choices. What stark inequality. I’ve worked in this space for a few years now, but this week I was hit anew by the gulf between the life of a refugee and mine.
As advocates for refugees, we believe that we are called to follow the command of Isaiah 16:3, which says, "do not betray the refugees." Hear the perspective of the Tutapona country director for the field office of Uganda, Tim Manson, as he shares some thoughts about the refugee crises we are facing today.
The recent US decision to temporarily close its borders to refugees has heightened debate around this already global issue. As I write this there are massive numbers of people fleeing war zones in the Middle East and Central and Eastern Africa. Wealthy (and some not so wealthy) European countries have been inundated with refugees over the past few years, resulting in major political and social change. But by far the majority of refugees end up in developing countries.
As one example, Uganda has an open door policy for refugees. Early this year, it was announced by UNHCR that the number of refugees residing in Uganda had just passed the one million mark. Half of these arrived last year in a six-month surge between July and December in which a daily average of 2,400 people fled the civil war in South Sudan. Uganda filled existing refugee settlements, then opened new ones, which in turn filled up. People are still crossing as I write this. Yet there is no indication that Uganda’s stance is about to change. Uganda is not a particularly big, nor a wealthy country. I should point out that Uganda is not alone in taking more than their fair share. Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Jordan (not exhaustive) have all taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees as well.
Just to hammer home the imbalance, last year my home country of New Zealand (about the same land area as Uganda) accepted 1,000 refugees.
I have a couple of thoughts around this. Firstly, refugees are a group of people who are uniquely in need of support. Multiple factors coincide to make theirs a particularly difficult context. Poverty, cultural and linguistic dislocation, uncertainty about the future, loss of loved ones and often significant psychological trauma can all contribute to create a bleak outlook. New Zealand, the US and many other developed countries clearly could be doing a lot more. It is important for their citizens to make noise. However, I am not convinced that the resettlement of refugees from poorer to wealthier countries is the only answer. Countries like Uganda that already host huge numbers of refugees need support. I also don't think our governments are responsible for carrying out all our acts of social justice for us. Not only wealthy governments, but also wealthy individuals should find creative ways of supporting refugees.
Tutapona works with refugees in Iraq and Uganda, offering group programs to help people recover from the pain of psychological trauma. I can say from first-hand experience that the work of Tutapona is helping to restore hope to refugees at a time when their options are limited (and reducing). I encourage you to get behind that.