In February 2015, our Director Lydia travelled to Rwentobo in South West Uganda for two weeks as part of a team from TBC (Tonbridge Baptist Church.) The team had previously visited this area of Uganda in 2014 as they have a long standing relationship with the World Shine Primary School in the village. There were lots of different jobs to do and projects to get involved with including painting classrooms, providing clinics for minor wounds and grazes, and visiting local families.
Lydia had prepared some workshops on mental health; our first international Farsight project. This was the perfect place to run a pilot project as the school has an excellent reputation in its community.The first workshop was for teachers, pastors and community leaders and aimed to address some of the misconceptions surrounding mental health in Uganda. 38 people came to hear Lydia share some basic mental health information, some personal experience and highlight the damage that discrimination does.
Some of her key messages included:
– The widespread prevalence of mental health issues across Uganda and the lack of facilities and services available to those who are unwell.
– The dangers of viewing mental health as purely spiritual and trying to pray away / exorcize ‘mental health demons.’
– The importance of community; of supporting one another, looking out for those who are particularly vulnerable and improving general community well-being.
There was some excellent responses from those who had attended, and a lot of questions being asked. This will be a long journey of understanding and shifts in culture, but it is exciting to see some progress already being made. A dozen of the attendees have formed an action group in which they will look at ways of improving well-being within the community through events such as coffee mornings (or the Ugandan equivalent!) Another exciting event occurred the following day, when one of the women who had attended the workshop said that her neighbour had brought a lady with mental health problems to see her. Instead of enthusiastically praying over her, she asked the lady to share some of her story, before asking if she could pray with her. This may sound very simple, but it represents an entirely new way of approaching mental health.
Later on in the trip, all of the parents of the World Shine Primary School students were invited to come and attend a parenting seminar. Lydia then had the opportunity to share some of her personal experiences with approximately 200 parents about creating support networks. Through sharing her own experiences of mental health and the invaluable support of her family, Lydia was able to explain the importance of unconditional love for those with mental health problems, and once again, challenge some of the misconceptions surrounding mental illness.
This was a very powerful time as nearly half of the group came forward at the end for prayer ministry. The entire team were on hand to pray with people, and it was amazing to see how the local community responded to them. It was clear that this was a very different sort of prayer ministry to what the Ugandans were used to; there was no shouting, no deliverance and no sense of guilt or shame. People were ministered to gently, calmly and lovingly; constantly being reassured of God’s unconditional and never ending love for them.