There’s a story Tutapona uses in its Ugandan curriculum.
Imagine yourself walking in a field, and you accidentally step on a poisonous snake. It jumps up and bites your ankle, and because you’ve been bitten its poison is inside you. Now, you could try to get revenge on the snake, or even kill it. But it’s you who would die, and the snake, meanwhile, is already gone; it’s not even thinking about you anymore. So, what do you do? You need to get that poison out, and your only way forward is to find a way to take care of yourself.
“It can be hard to have hope in a situation like that,” says Chaundra Eagar, Tutapona’s Director of Communications. “Our programs help people realize what’s within their grasp, what they may need to hold onto it, and how they can look to the future.”
Founded in 2008 to work with forcibly displaced people in Uganda, Tutapona facilitates emotional healing through mental health services for refugees impacted by war and conflict. In 2016 the donation-funded organization expanded to Iraq, where communities had been devasted by ISIS, and it currently serves populations from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and, most recently, Ukraine.
Tutapona’s website points out that more than 100 million people worldwide are presently displaced, and it’s so far been able to provide psychosocial aid to about 50,000.
“A lot of the people we serve live in refugee camps, not knowing where family members are, or not knowing if or when they can go back home,” says Eagar. “In the camps and settlements where we work, entire communities have experienced more than we can imagine.”
She also explains that where group trauma has taken place, group healing is often required to restore the community from the horrors of war.
“It’s a group effort, which is why we find group programming to be so important,” she says. “Our programming is also run entirely by nationals. We have Ugandan, South Sudanese, Congolese and Iraqi facilitators who have been trained to deliver our programs in culturally relevant ways. It’s not just westerners coming in and doing it themselves.”
“GROW,” Tutapona’s community-oriented adult program, aims to improve mental, emotional, behavioural, relational and spiritual well-being by cultivating the right environments for healing to take place. It’s delivered in nine sessions over two weeks and is designed for groups of around 20 people.
Depending on location, services are delivered for two hours each morning or afternoon. By then, staff will have entered the community, talked about what’s available and asked leaders and families whether or not they’d like to participate. Eagar appreciates the interactive element of the curriculum, especially when it comes to children.
“It’s very play-based, but it’s founded in post-traumatic growth,” she says. “Some of these cultures really value storytelling, and through the stories participants will learn about the effects of what they’ve faced in their lives, and how to overcome them.” Forgiveness, says Eagar, is fundamental to the programming, and groups will discuss what forgiveness could look like, and that extending it doesn’t mean that what happened to them, or what that took place was right.
“It doesn’t mean that the perpetrators of trauma shouldn’t face consequences,” she says. “But it does release you from holding on to bitterness and anger.”
Before beginning programming, participants complete a self-reported assessment called the Screen for Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms (SPTSS test), which allows Tutapona staff to evaluate how people are coping, and how they may need additional support. For example, a participant might report experiencing sleeplessness, having nightmares or possessing a fear of going out into the community.
“There’s a variety of symptoms that people face that can hold them back from being able to rebuild their lives,” Eagar explains. “We find that after two weeks those symptoms have decreased significantly, and after three months we follow up again. We see almost a 58% reduction in self-reported trauma symptoms in adults, and a 71% reduction for children.”
It’s vitally important work with vitally important results, but as a not-for-profit Tutapona operates entirely on donations.
“We like to tell people that, as this is our 15th anniversary, we’re running a 15-for-15 campaign in which supporters can donate $15 each month for 15 months,” says Eagar. “That’s enough to put three adults or children who have experienced armed conflict through one of our mental health programs.”
Partners who value the work of Tutapona can donate through the website or by mailing a cheque to Tutapona, c/o ICMS, PO Box 24 Stn. A, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6Z4. The organization also accepts donations of stock and other financial gifts and has some tips on how to host fundraisers.
“It can be pretty heavy work,” says Eagar. “But the thing I love about it is that all these stories have hope in them. Our programming helps people build authentic hope in their lives.”