“Hi, I’m Dave… I’m the Program Manager with Tutapona Trauma Rehabilitation.”
Usually as I put out my hand to try and make a good professional impression, one of three things happen; People’s eyes gloss over, they ask me if I’m a doctor or they start freaking out that I can read their minds.
Maybe there’s a bit of projecting my own insecurities onto their response (if only I knew some good counsellors, right?) but it has been my experience that when most people think about the needs of refugees, or the needs of people in general, psychological care is not at the top of the list. Because of the hidden nature and complexity of physiological wounds it can easily be put to the side, but once you engage with the effects of trauma, you see it all around you.
Why I Do this job.
Before each program we ask community members to fill out a test to measure their symptoms of trauma. The test asks questions like "Do you have a hard time remembering things?", “Are you easily startled?”, or “Do you have trouble sleeping?”. For many people, one or two of these symptoms is fairly normal, however, with refugees in Uganda we have found the average result is over double the score that indicates a likelihood of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Try imagining studying in school, starting a new business, or taking care of your children when you see danger around every corner. When you haven’t slept through the night in years. When daily stresses make you furious but you don’t know why, or the whole world looks dark.
That’s what trauma does to a person.
Why does this happen?
After traumatic events the brain can get stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze, mechanisms designed to help a person survive the initial event. In the long term this can result in a rewiring of the brain in three major ways.
1. There is greater activity in the brain stem leading to over activation of threat perception. This results in normal situations becoming unmanageable.
2. There is a decrease of activity in the pre frontal cortex which is where our concrete thought occurs. This makes learning or making logical decisions difficult.
3. There is a dampening in the mid brain responsible for emotions which results in an increased difficulty in managing one’s feelings, as well as understanding the emotions of those around you.
Here’s the Good News...
People are resilient, and with the right tools beautiful things happen. As we bring communities together and impart tools for healing we witness astounding transformations. In fact, after our two-week EMPOWER program – our graduates report an average reduction of symptoms of over 50%. Graduates testify changes like sleeping better, less anxiety, less negative thoughts, and greater enthusiasm for the future.
Knowing not only the impact of trauma, but the power of our mission, we can proudly say “Tutapona”, We Are Healing. That’s why I do what I do.
Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another.
-Bessel Van Der Kolk (M. D)