Uganda: JRS empowers IDPs in the north
07 March 2011

Volunteer counsellors during a JRS training session near Kitgum, northern Uganda. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
“Complete healing and recovery can only come from the people’s own initiative, commitment and determination to improve their lives."

Kitgum, 7 March 2011 - While northern Uganda continues to recover from a more than two decade long conflict, JRS prepares returnees to fully take charge of their lives.  

“It’s long road to recovery here. Poverty, poor infrastructure, corruption, diseases and illiteracy are some of the problems returnees struggle with,” says Stephanie Brosch, JRS Project Director in Kitgum. “These problems are an obstacle to the recovery process in the Acholi sub-region,” she adds.

Given these challenges, JRS has refocused its psycho-social support programme on empowering formerly displaced persons to fully rely on themselves, manage the affairs of their communities and shape their future without depending on outsiders.

Towards more involvement and participation

“While our first approach focused more on responding to the immediate needs of the community, we now concentrate on training volunteer counsellors from within the communities. They will be more involved in supporting their fellow community members carry out, monitor and evaluate activities in areas such as counselling, livelihoods and shelter. Meanwhile, JRS’s role has been reduced to providing technical and management support to these volunteers and to make sure the quality of service is maintained,” says Ms. Brosch.

The local counsellors will identify and accompany their clients, visit them at home, provide basic psycho-social support and follow up on each case. They will also keep record of all their activities and seek help for difficult cases from the JRS team. 

JRS will supervise and coordinate their activities at the project level, assist them with difficulties, help solve conflicts among the counsellors, provide further training and introduce them to local government representatives, institutions and other organisations. 

Increase efficiency by assigning more specific tasks

Similarly, JRS will refocus its approach in the shelter programme. While counsellors would work with families of particularly needy people in a more general way before, they will now have more specific tasks and work more independently. Their responsibilities will include identifying those most in need, gaining their family’s support to build small houses, identifying suppliers of materials, monitoring and keeping records of the progress made and providing feedback  to the JRS team on successes and challenges. 

“It has not been easy to change our approach,” says Ms. Brosch. “The long presence of many aid organisations in the area has created a culture of dependence. Instead of taking initiative and relying on their own resources, returnees tend to expect the agencies to respond to all their needs,” she adds. 

But the 45 volunteers are hopeful, given the training they received and the results in their work with the local communities. Despite the numerous difficulties they still face, stories of people who have regained hope after having lost all hope show that they can find a new perspective and a way to move on with life even after JRS will withdraw from Kitgum in 2012.

Returnees determined to move ahead 

“Interventions of various agencies, among them JRS, have helped heal many wounds and improve the quality of the people’s lives but this is not enough,” says Ms. Brosch. “Complete healing and recovery can only come from the people’s own initiative, commitment and determination to improve their lives. Those JRS has accompanied have shown that they are not only capable but also very determined to move ahead on their own,” she adds.

Until 2006, northern Uganda went through two decades of conflict, as Ugandan government forces fought the LRA. The rebels waged a brutal war, abducting boys and girls to fight for them or serve as sex slaves, and killing or mutilating those who resisted. Ninety percent of the population was displaced into camps.

Since the beginning of this year, camps for internally displaced persons have been officially closed and more than 90 percent of the population has returned home. 

JRS has been present in Kitgum District since 2006, accompanying the IDP community throughout the whole return process, providing vocational and skills training, training community volunteers in counselling and peace building and promoting a dialogue of culture between the youth and the elders.

Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
+254 20 3874152

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