The One Healed First

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. 

Summer Tour 2017

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

A Stark Contrast

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.

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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.


A Million and Counting

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.

Tim Manson

10 Photos that celebrate Womanhood

We celebrate women at Tutapona...and around here we're surrounded by strong, powerful, resilient and hard working women every. single. day! The majority of the people in our programs are women and we find ourselves advocating for them daily. So today, on International Women's Day, we wanted to bring you 10 photos that celebrate Womanhood in all it's glorious beauty and strength. All Photos by the talented Tutapona volunteer @Candice Lassey! #internationalwomensday


When her Somali daughter fell pregnant to a Ugandan man, the community told her to stone her. Instead, she chose to love - and this is what love looks like.

(Ayeeyo from Somalia, and her  grandson , Nakivale Refugee Camp)

(Ayeeyo from Somalia, and her grandson, Nakivale Refugee Camp)


If only you could see what her eyes have seen and hear what her eyes have heard, you would get a glimpse into the courage and bravery behind her smile. Her past may be clouded with sorrow, but her future is bright with hope.

(Doreen from Burundi, 11 years old, Nakivale Refugee Settlement

(Doreen from Burundi, 11 years old, Nakivale Refugee Settlement


Jjajja from Pageya

She's a pillar in her community - she's lived through civil wars and genocides and she's survived each one with courage and bravery.

(Jjajja from Pageya, 92 years old, Northern Uganda)

(Jjajja from Pageya, 92 years old, Northern Uganda)


Mama from Burundi

She is covered in strength and dignity; she smiles at the prospect of her future.

(Mama from Burundi, Misyera District, Nakivale Refugee Camp)

(Mama from Burundi, Misyera District, Nakivale Refugee Camp)


Mama from Pageya

Bullet holes and knife wounds remain as a testament to her audacity - A reminder that strong women don't just survive, they thrive.

(Mama from Pageya, Northern Uganda)

(Mama from Pageya, Northern Uganda)


Mama from DRCongo

True freedom takes courage. It takes boldness to free herself from her past and look fearlessly at her future. 
And with freedom, comes joy.

(Mama from DRCongo, now in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement)

(Mama from DRCongo, now in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement)



She sits silently on her thin mattress, holding her newborn twins while her two year old tries to drink from the Jerry Can. She refused to give up when her husband was killed and she refuses to give up now.

(Nayigiziki and her three boys from Burundi, Reception Centre, Nakivale Refugee Settlement)

(Nayigiziki and her three boys from Burundi, Reception Centre, Nakivale Refugee Settlement)



Nights spent hidden in jungles, days spent ploughing through forests. It was worth it for freedom. It was worth it for peace.

(Nyōgokuru from Burundi, now in Misyera, Nakivale Refugee Settlement)

(Nyōgokuru from Burundi, now in Misyera, Nakivale Refugee Settlement)



While the other children run and hide behind the houses, tents and trees, she firmly plants her feet, puts her shawl over her head and smiles for a picture.

(Sifa from Congo, 14 years old, Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement.)

(Sifa from Congo, 14 years old, Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement.)


Rose & Sophie

They'll do anything to make sure the refugees have the best chance at rehabilitation, even if that means they help to build a classroom!

(Rose & Sophie, Tutapona Staff Members at Nakivale Refugee Settlement)

(Rose & Sophie, Tutapona Staff Members at Nakivale Refugee Settlement)

A Day in the Life of a Tutapona Volunteer

Ever wonder what it's like to volunteer with Tutapona? Read this story from Candice Lassey to find out.

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Pageya // Acholiland // Northern Uganda


6.30am. I can see the soft glow of sunlight sneaking under the door to my hut as the sun rises over the Northern Ugandan plains. As the peaceful village slowly awakens I look over at Irene, my Tutapona host for the week. She sleeps quietly on her mat, draped by a mosquito net hung from the grass thatched roof.


I hear the chatter of children and the splash of water – it’s bathing time! I quietly sit up and fold my mosquito net up to the roof, trying to find my shoes in the dim light. The soft light streams in as I open the tiny door and I take a deep breath of the fresh village air. I grab my camera: It’s photo time.


I’ve been here for four days now and the kids are finally used to me, although that could have something to do having an unlimited supply of stickers and sweeties and a soccer ball stashed in the hut. Some of the children smile and wave, some of them point to the colourful stars on the foreheads, ears and hands: they still have their stickers from yesterday. There is a mother bathing her youngest, an eight-month old little boy who is still a bit hesitant of me. I make my way over to her. “Icoo maber” I say with a morning greeting. “Picture?” I ask, holding up my camera in its case. She smiles and eagerly nods “Aya!” I take out my camera and the children come running, some half-dressed, some still brushing their teeth.


The giggles are explosive as they pose for their pictures. There is a sweet innocence about it all as the children jump around, smiling and laughing. I can’t help but wonder how different life was in this village 15 years ago at the height of the L.R.A. tyranny. Would these sweet, innocent children have survived? Would they have been counted amongst the tens of thousands of children who were abducted and conscripted into child soldiers? The sombre thought settles over me as I sit in the swirling dust. I silently pray that these children never have to experience those atrocities. I hope they can keep their innocence, unspoiled by the horrors of war that relentlessly haunt their parents and older siblings.


That is why Tutapona is here – to work with the victims of the conflict. Empower, the trauma rehabilitation program they deliver is designed to bring transformation and healing to an entire community. It’s a tough but successful process and in less than a week the results are already obvious.


7.15am. As I walk back to the hut I see an elderly lady with a tall walking stick coming across the field for a one on one session with us. She’s hardly slept, kept awake by a stomach ulcer that has been giving her pain for years. She is worried about crops and about her grandson, Opiyo, who has a physical disability caused by childhood polio. She begins to talk about her experiences during the L.R.A. raids and how they still affect her today. She feels very anxious, jumping at loud noises, fearing that something bad is always going to happen. She has nightmares that her house is burning, or that she is being shot at by her children. We talk her through some coping strategies and after an hour she leaves, just as two men appear at the door. The steady stream of people continues throughout the morning and through lunch; a meal of rice, beans and vegetables purchased from the markets the night before.


1.20pm. After lunch the scorching sun hits its peak and everyone quietly retreats into the shade of their mud huts. The silence is interrupted by the cries of a child echoing out across the village. Irene looks out the door and sees Opiyo, sitting alone in the dirt. She calmly walks over to the boy, picks him up and brings him back to the hut where she bathes him and then brings him inside. Irene calms the boy down and gives him some lunch and immediately the crying stops. She pulls up some music videos on her laptop, and Opiyo is captivated until the soccer ball comes out. For the next 40 minutes we sit on my mat rolling the ball back and forth. It acts as therapy for his underdeveloped muscles and poor motor skills, a result of his infanthood illness. He laughs as I throw the ball into the air and let it land on my head. He tries to copy me but loses his balance and falls to the floor. I wait for him to cry, but instead hear joyful squeals of laughter. The kid is hilarious!


2.00pm. We head toward the village centre, a 20-minute walk in the sweltering heat. I wrap a scarf around my head in an attempt to create some shade, bringing giggles galore from the children who sit in the shade of their houses. The team discuss the plan for the afternoon; they are going to squeeze in two sessions today because there are clan meetings coming up and they don’t want anyone to miss out on anything. Today there will be an opportunity to share stories, and there will be some fun activities to illustrate the power of forgiveness.  

Not long after we arrive the session begins and immediately there is laughter. Teenagers and adults participate in an activity to see who can hold a rock in their outstretched hand the longest. After several minutes it comes down to a 14-year-old boy and a 70-year-old woman, neither of whom are willing to lose to the other. The villagers start cheering for their favourite and finally the young boy relents. There are woops and shrill ululations as they celebrate her victory. The lesson is simple but effective: it may seem easy to hold onto your anger at first, but eventually the burden becomes too much to carry.


A volunteer steps forward and she is tied up, demonstrating the bondage of unforgiveness. Alex ties a knot for every unforgiven offence until she can no longer even manage a wriggle, restrained by the paralysing hurt, anger and bitterness of her past. Some are laughing at her attempts to move, others become solemn as the lesson becomes obvious. Their own inability to forgive the atrocities of the past is hurting them more than the offenders. Then, as each offence is forgiven a knot is gently undone until finally she is free again. The lesson is very clear:  Forgiveness equals freedom.


5.20pm. The session ends with rollcall – 169 attendees in total. It’s a big crowd and Alex and Irene are concerned that they don’t have enough time to reach every individual. They plan to return for their Follow Up program, hoping that it will give them further opportunities to work with everyone. It’s an issue they face in every village – so many broken people, so little time and resources.


8.30pm. Before the moon rises I quickly duck out for a “shower”. The bathing area is a short walk from the huts; a shonky three walled structure with gaps large enough to see straight through. I hang my sarong to make a fourth wall and hope that they moon stays hidden for the next few minutes while I hastily wash from a bucket of warm water. When I return to the hut a man and one of his wives are with the team having some marriage counseling.


11.00pm. The couple finally bid us “But maber”, good night. Everyone is exhausted but there is a strong sense of accomplishment, knowing that so many people have made the vital decision to forgive the offences of the past. As we turn off the solar powered light that illuminates the hut, the village is silent once again. My head barely hits the pillow before my mind sets to work, reflecting on the activities of the day. I can hear Irene quietly praying from her mat and I do the same. I thank God for my day, for the safety and hope and peace that I have. I pray for the children to remain innocent. I pray for education opportunities and for health, for their crops to prosper and grow. I pray for the parents, the older siblings, and the grandparents who are all working hard towards reconciliation and rehabilitation. I pray that the things they have learnt would sink from their heads into their hearts. I blink back tears as I think of the stories they have shared and I pray for peace as they sleep. I pray for their futures. I pray that as their days end so would their anxieties, and as the new dawn prepares to rise, their healing will come.


Candice Lassey