Category Archives: Africa

Volunteerism in Africa: To Go or Not to Go?


From time to time you can find essays identifying serious problems with volunteerism by Americans in developing nations. Last year I wrote a short response to acknowledge the real problem with some trips but countered with several reasons why not all trips are created the same and how some short-term trips can be beneficial.

Now, one year later, I have just returned from leading another Global Trauma Recovery Institute group of mental health professionals on a trip to Rwanda (my 6th trip to this tiny country). And once again, I just finished reading an essay by Heather Ruiz who documents some of the more egregious problems created by short-term trips–unneeded “help”, creating a culture of dependency, and a false perception of a need to develop.

Wrestle with the Problems

As a leader of short-term trips, I highly encourage anyone planning a trip to wrestle with these issues. Do not easily dismiss the reasons your trip might not need to happen. If you are unaware of the complexities of “help” I urge you to read the following books:

Preparing to Go

If you decide your trip is still in the best interests of those you will visit, consider the following preparations as absolutely essential:

  1. Pray. Obviously.
  2. Study the region. Know its history, culture (from multiple vantage points), its successes and struggles. Know who is providing aid/help/ministry in this region. Try to make contact before you go to see if you can learn from them.
  3. Ensure you have been invited. Don’t go if you haven’t had a solid invitation, a “come over and help us” request.
  4. Find a cultural guide. Having a bridge person is essential. Such a person should be well-respected by many and already considered a leader among her people.
  5. Examine goals. What really is your purpose? How will you know you have achieved your goals? For example, just because you want to teach pastors how to preach and you deliver classroom training doesn’t mean you have met your goal. Key Question: Did you ask who
  6. Think about after you leave. What do you expect will happen after you leave? Benefits? Struggles? If one of your goals is “relationship strengthening” then consider how this will continue after you leave. Be realistic. How has your work supported local leadership. How will it make their job easier?
  7. Review training materials. One of the biggest failures I have made is not to have my training materials reviewed prior to departure. Review by multiple eyes can catch obvious cultural disconnects. Don’t lecture. Always use dialogical forms of education. You may not be able to cover as much material but what you deliver will be better and more useful. You will learn what works and does not work.
  8. Stay in locations that benefit the local population. Consider your footprint. How will you ensure you are not a burden to your new friends? Try to stay in locations that provide local jobs and where profits go back into local ministries.
  9. Working with children? Plan ahead what you will give. Likely, you won’t be the first to arrive at their village. We’ve had the experience of children asking for things like watches, bracelets, money, candy, etc. Re-read the essay by Heather Ruiz (above) as to the impact of gifts. They aren’t always helpful. Of course it is nice to please children with a treat. Buy a local treat and share that with them.

Telling Stories When You Return

I confess that I have had many judgmental thoughts when viewing social media pictures of (primarily) white people hugging little African children. Do they not understand how such pictures foster the “great white hope” mentality that is so destructive to Africans and Americans? I have been a bit sheltered from this during my trips to Rwanda as I mostly interact with other counseling and ministry professionals. Also, I tend not to take pictures because I do not like the way taking them makes me feel distant from my friends and even at a zoo when taking pictures of strangers.

And yet, I want to convey my experience to my friends who have prayed for me and who sacrificially supported the trip. Work to share stories (only with permission if identifying information given!) and pictures that show the strength, fortitude and honor of the people you met. Consider, for a moment, what the reverse would be like if they traveled to see you and brought back pictures of you, your family, and the interior of your house to share with their friends. How would that feel?

And if you are going to share pictures of children mobbing you, make sure you first ask yourself about the meaning of the mobbing. Why are these strangers holding your hand, fighting to be next to you, jumping in your lap. Sometimes it is as sweet and innocent as children getting the opportunity to meet

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

someone they consider exotic, sometimes it may be due to a lack of parental love (once a child asked if he could make an application to join my family), or worse, it may be learned behavior and lacking the feelings you might expect (once I watched a group sing a song but there was no music in their eyes, just rote behavior).

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GTRI 2014: Day 10, Muhanga


July 10, 2014. Centre St. Andre

Thursday, Day 2 of the Community of Practice with the Bible Society of Rwanda. Already we are seeing deepening relationships. Last night many Americans and Rwandans sat together in the dining area talking and getting to know each other and revealing deep stories, stories of courage, pain, and hope. Precious times.

On day two of the Community of Practice we began with a short devotional considering Jeremiah’s lament. Barbara Shaffer and Carol King led a training and discussion of the problem of domestic violence. This is a new chapter in the Healing Wounds of Trauma materials. We discussed how much of a problem it is in Rwanda, why women stay, and how we can help both victim and abuser.

DSC_0307In the afternoon, we did another teaching (Carol and myself) regarding the problem of suicide. It appears that most Rwandans believe that one who commits suicide is automatically going to hell. In addition, the family is often shunned. This seemed a very entrenched belief and so my raising doubts and questions resulted in very spirited debate. While we also discussed how to help the suicidal person and how to help the family members, I left them with the encouragement not to speak for God and since no verses speak to the future of suicide persons, they ought to be careful to put words into God’s mouth.

We ended this conference day by giving the Rwandans an opportunity to have a session for their own care. We can see the weariness on their faces. Baraka led a care for the caregiver session while the GTRI team met to process what we were hearing and seeing–the heartache and the resiliency.

Monique (R) with Souvenir

Monique (R) with Souvenir

We had the privilege of listening to Monique’s story of surviving the genocide as a teenager and God’s subsequent call on her life. The story is too precious and hard to share here beyond a few words. She survived when family members around her were executed (shot) and fell on top of her. The killers left the pile of bodies, not knowing that she was not killed. Just prior to this event, she had read Psalm 91 and heard God speaking to her about her own future when she read verse 7,

“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” 

She has gone one to become an evangelist for Christ and a helper of the hurting. I can attest that she has a gift that few have. And I will never read that verse again in the same way

As the previous night, many of us stayed up quite late deepening relationships with new and old Rwandan friends. Looking over the dinner area, I saw heads bowed in prayer, attempts to speak in French, cackling laughter, and the sharing of food and drink. Such a beautiful sight.

Tomorrow will end our COP and we will move on south to Butare.

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GTRI 2014: Day 8 Kigali


July 8, 2014

Tuesday. Yesterday was a deep dive into Rwanda for GTRI students. They heard directly from Rwandan caregivers and spent time trying to weigh the genocide and its ongoing impact. Today we begin meeting and interacting with trauma healing and recovery caregivers in a conference setting. At a local hotel about 100 Rwandans gathered to kick off the Bible Society’s trauma healing community of practice and the inauguration of the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce both projects to the public and to invite the media and dignitaries to be present. The Rev. Emmanuel Kayijuka game some opening remarks and an Anglican Bishop offered a brief bible study of John 4:1-3, the woman at the well. He pointed out that she was likely a prostitute and an DSC_0233abused woman, abused by men, by society and desperate. Why else gather water at noon. He also pointed out that after her healing, she became a woman on a mission of healing, seeking social contact for the purpose of evangelism. After these reflections, Dr. Jean Mutabaruka presented a paper looking at the relationship between trauma, PTSD, and complicated grief. He pointed to 12 types of trauma in Rwanda, including sexual/physical/emotional abuse, witnessing violence, discrimination, poverty, etc. At the end, he raised a few general questions regarding the management of the mourning period/process each year.

After the professor finished, both Diane Langberg and I made a few brief remarks in response. Dr. Harriet Hill presented an overview of trauma healing project, in Rwanda and around the world. She showed the latest trailer of a documentary (much about the Congo project) about bible based trauma healing slated to be aired on ABC network this fall. Fun to see people I know in this trailer. David from the Rwandan Bible Society reviewed the progress to date: 2,918 trained people using Healing Wounds of Trauma material. Many of these are able to train others while the rest are better able to care for themselves.

New President: Baraka Credit: Heather Evans

The second half of the day included a presentation by Baraka Paulette Unwingeneye about the efforts thus far to form the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. This group of counselors and caregivers have been meeting with us since 2011 and are ready to be birthed. As Baraka said it, it may be like an elephant’s gestation, but now we are near the final month. We had presentations from Narcisse about the needed documents to be filed to make the association official, myself about the benefits and processes to form an associations. Then, those in attendance voted in a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, advisors, and conflict managers. This may not sound very moving, but I assure it was!

Fun too

While we come to Rwanda for serious matters, not everything has to be intense. As our day was ending, we quickly changed from our conference clothes to go out for a bit of shopping: the Simba market for coffee and tea, and another market selling typical Rwandan traditional items (clothes, woven bowls, banana leaf art. I looked and looked for a blue African traditional shirt but came up empty.

This marks our last night at Solace. Tomorrow we move on to the conference proper about 50 minutes or so south in Muhanga (Southern Province). Though we are about to begin the training in earnest, I think I am beginning to relax. A year’s worth of planning is now well under way. Despite a few surprises and schedule changes, most everything is working as planned. No problems with transportation, food, water, housing. Meetings planned have more or less happened.

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Filed under Africa, counseling, counseling skills, Rwanda

Volunteer tourism: Help or Hurt?


[My trip diary will continue on Monday. But this blog presents a related topic.]

I heard a NPR news story about volunteer tourism and who it helps most (listen here). If you have gone on, heard about, or given to short-term missions projects, you likely have considered the question of whether it is really worth the expense. Are locals really being helped when huge amounts of cash must be used to fly and house outsiders on their trip. At times I have wavered. Should this 30,000 dollars be better used by giving it to local ministries and letting them hire local workers to do what outsiders might do.

Sometimes this is true. But there are a few things to consider:

1. The money probably wouldn’t be raised without sending the outsiders.

2. Having outsiders come and see provides much encouragement.

3. Developing world-minded outsiders (read Americans) can have significant and ongoing impact.

4. Some trips are better than others (as the news story suggests) in that giving goes to local ministries. On our recent trip we stayed at ministry guesthouses which support those ministries and provide jobs to local people. We paid small businesses for services whenever possible.

No doubt some trips are harmful, especially when they promise but do not deliver or continue to support imbalance of power. But many trips do significant benefit for all involved.

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GTRI 2014 Trip: Day 3


[These are journal entries from my recent trip To Uganda and Rwanda during the first weeks of July.]

Day 3, July 3

Today was the 2nd and final day of the first ever Community of Practice for the Bible Society of Uganda trauma healing volunteers. Another long day as the program did not end until about 7 pm! Today I presented on an overview and update on the impact and treatment of PTSD. This is a group that likes to ask questions! We discussed the role of demonic in PTSD and how to know the difference. Many of the participants were quite interested in discussing how to educate local pastors in understanding the nature of dissociation. I also participated in teaching the new lesson (added chapter to Healing The Wounds of Trauma material) on domestic violence. In discussing why victims “choose” to stay in DV situations we had some lively discussion about whether the Bible teaches that women must stay. Very productive I think and gave some people a new perspective on the need to bring this hidden scourge out into the light.

The conference ended with reports, public conference evaluations (loved the very direct and loving evaluation of my presentations: have me speak more, have me slow down!), the handing out of the certificates, and final words. One of the most moving items was that I received “thank yous” in every mother tongue present. Seemed like there were at least 30 different languages represented. It was hard not to be choked up. I recognized a few (Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwandan).

Two take-aways I want to remember:

  1. We need special materials for ex-combatants. First, much of the focus in Uganda has been on child soldiers. But the country is full of adult ex-combatants who were in Amin’s military or subsequent militaries and who now feel disconnected and distanced from current society. Some report that if they get together for sharing with other ex-combatants, they get reported (falsely) for starting a rebel group. One reported being jailed briefly for such a matter. Several told me that they were suffering terribly from being in POW camps and from the violence they witnessed. But most importantly, they noted that much of the trauma healing materials only speak of soldiers as the cause of trauma and so they feel more isolated when they read about or attend trauma healing exercises. No one, they feel, speaks of the trauma of seeing comrades die, of being forced to carry out commands against their will.
  2. Trauma healing volunteers, financing, and the need for View from my roomtangibles. Some of the volunteers believe that they must bring tangibles when coming to do trauma healing work. Words are not enough and participants expect some sort of handout: soap, money for transport, etc. The discussion we had about this ranged from criticism of this part of Ugandan culture and the need to develop a donor rather than handout culture to recognition that this culture has been formed, in part, by well-meaning foreign (Muzungu) NGOs that offer handouts as a means to increase participation in projects. Some volunteers noted they had been falsely accused of pocketing monies intended for participants when they didn’t come with any “gifts.” In addition, many discussed the difficulty of funding the trauma healing groups and the need to find sustainable funding using micro-enterprise.

My day had three other stimulating experiences. First, I was interviewed by a journalist for television broadcast. Supposedly, it aired across the nation this evening, though I did not see it. Second, a woman told me of meeting Joseph Kony about 4 years ago (during the failed attempt to negotiate with him). She said that he was very winsome and crafty. If she didn’t know better, she could have fallen for his lines. I guess this is one of the reasons he is able to stay “missing” by convincing others to help hide him. Finally, I received a text from my wife letting me know that the US government warned of a terror plot at Entebbe airport tonight (about 10 miles from here). I’m planning on being there tomorrow to fly to Kigali. I guess I will evaluate the treat in the am.

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GTRI 2014 Trip: Day 1 and 2


unnamed[I’ve been back for a couple of weeks but just now getting to write about this trip. These notes from each day come from my journal and don’t represent all that I did each day.]

Today (July 1), I landed midday at Entebbe airport just outside Kampala, Uganda. Entebbe is on the shores of Lake Victoria. I was met by Justus Rubarema of the Bible Society of Uganda as well as Klero Onuha of the Bible Society of South Sudan. Both men worth getting to know! We waited a bit for Margaret Hill’s plane arriving from Nairobi. Once gathered, we made for the Lweza Conference Centre about half way to the city of Kampala. Lovely grounds. Peaceful. Enjoyed the little monkeys eating flowers and looking for handouts (I had none).

I arrived at this conference (Community of Practice for Trauma Healing practitioners trained by the Bible Society) feeling fairly awake despite 26 hours of travel time. It may have helped a bit that I was unexpectedly bumped to business class on Qatar Airways from Philadelphia to Doha (a 13 hour leg). I suspect the lay flat seats had something to do with my feeling pretty good. Feeling good, I invited Margaret to go on a small walk around the area and on a quiet road outside the compound. Discussed some of her techniques to help quiet distress in participants where violence and trauma was ongoing (e.g., Bangui, CAR). We discussed the use of the “butterfly hug” as a means to calm. Also, discussed the use of drawing a place “bien etre” rather than a “safe place” since most participants she had did not have such a safe place at the present time. We finished our discussion of how to safeguard the mis-use of these calming techniques so that they would not be mis-represented as being more than they are, techniques used to help someone in the midst of distress.

Ended our day with a meal of rice, bananas, potatoes and chicken. Off to bed in hopes of getting on the right time zone quickly.

Day 2

First full day of the conference (and FULL it was, 8am to 6:30pm). Attendees are all Ugandan plus Klero from South Sudan. Most are volunteers for the Bible Society, trained to provide healing groups using the Healing Wounds of Trauma materials. Some work with children, some with adults, some with ex-combatants, some with refugees, and some with women with HIV. The purpose of this conference is to add to their knowledge and skill base plus problem-solve as to how to provide more trauma healing experiences around the country—with almost no budget. Most of the country is well-represented including a number from Gulu and also the Nakivale refugee camp. More men than women. A couple of academic types are also present, representing both the Ugandan Counseling Association and the Ugandan Christian Counseling Association. Plus, one nun representing the faculty of a nearby Catholic college.

I presented on an update to listening skills which seemed well-received. This group is very willing to discuss, raise questions, and debate. I like it! It was requested that I offer some counseling sessions after dinner and so I did. Two men requested it and so I got a chance to hear about their ministries, their hearts, and their difficult struggles, both from the past and in the present. One of the things I am seeing here is that Ugandans need the wisdom of Solomon, the heart of David, and the integrity of Daniel, even when trying to deal with so-called Christian bosses. One fun fact is that the power went out right in the middle of one of the sessions. No problem. We could keep talking in pitch-dark! But by the time I fumbled with lighting a nearby candle, a generator kicked on and power was restored.

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Filed under "phil monroe", Africa, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Mapping Global Trauma


This week I am participating in the American Bible Society sponsored Community of Practice for trauma healing interventionists. The audience represents many organizations, Exile International, Wycliffe, SIL, the Seed Company, Food for the Hungry, as well as many bible societies. Attendees come from places such as Sri Lanka, Nigeria, South Sudan, CAR, Rwanda, Uganda plus several more.

Today, we heard from successes and challenges in several specific areas. Then, Dr. Matthew Stanford (Baylor) gave us an overview of trauma around the world. When we look at armed conflict, we see much on the continent of Africa. Natural disasters take even more of the globe. Trafficking, HIV and sexual violence cover the rest. While some 50% of the US population are exposed to traumatic events, only about 8% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. In other parts of the world, 90% are exposed to trauma and 40% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. One of the challenges missionary/humanitarian efforts face is learning about the symptoms and impact of trauma on populations. Too often people either neglect trauma or only focus on a few symptoms. We can try to work on one problem (domestic violence) but without addressing the deeper roots of trauma, it is likely not to be very effective.

After Matt, Rebecca Deng spoke of the experience of being a refugee (South Sudan) and coming to the US as a refugee. Some 42 million refugees worldwide. Some 25 million internally displaced (IDPs) on the continent of Africa. She told a bit of her story of loss and struggle even as she came to the US as an unaccompanied youth. She spoke this very important question

You can grow food, purify water, but who can clean the wounds of the heart?

We ended the morning session with a presentation from Bethany Haley of Exile International. Dr. Haley spoke about the impact of trauma on children. (Exile has work in the DRC and Uganda.) She reviewed the many sources of trauma (armed violence, sexual violence, trafficking, child labor, orphans, recruitment into armed gangs) and how it commonly impacts capacity to develop well and learn. We know that trauma changes brain structure and function. She pointed us to the work of Karyn Purvis at Texas Christian University who has done work on the effects of trauma on developing brains. In addition, she pointed us to Unicef materials available to teach about child trafficking around the world.

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Filed under Africa, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd, suffering

The Mission of Trauma Recovery: Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims


A few months ago I asked readers to give me ideas about how the church could better serve victims of trauma experiencing PTSD and other
related symptoms. I did so as I was thinking about the presentation I would make to conference attendees in Potchefstroom, South Africa on October 18, 2013. So, I post these slides (in advance) for those who can’t join me there or who were there, but want a copy.

The Mission of Trauma Recovery South Africa

Conference link

 

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Filed under Abuse, Africa, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd

Addressing Trauma in International Settings: 3 Models in Dialogue


The 2013 AACC World Conference continues. Thursday, Drs Harriet Hill, Matthew Stanford, and Diane Langberg and myself will make the above titled presentation. Harriet will present an overview of the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute work of developing helpers who can help others re-engage Scripture around their traumas. That model is centered around the small but helpful book, “Healing Wounds of Trauma” (you can find this on bibles.com). Matthew’s work is the Mental Health Grace Alliance project of hope groups–structured support groups that have been tested in Bengazi IDP camps and other locations. Diane and I will describe the beginning work of the Global Trauma Recovery Institute which is designed to support the existing work by local caregivers.

Follow This slide show link for our slides.

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Justice a luxury of the first world?


Was listening to NPR this morning as they discussed a novel (Hour of the Red God) by author Richard Crompton. It is set in Nairobi and follows a Maasai detective as he pursues justice. You can listen to the program story here.

What I found striking was this little bit of interchange between the detective and his supervisor:

— What about justice? croaks Mollel.

Otieno gives a sad smile. — Mollel, you’re in the wrong country. The wrong continent. Don’t you know there’s something more valuable than justice here?

— What?

— Peace. … Justice is a luxury. Peace is a necessity. You want justice, move to some first-world state with sophisticated crime labs and DNA tests and judges who can’t be bought off.

I find this intriguing and a common viewpoint in the parts of Africa I have traveled (admittedly small). Since justice isn’t possible, seek peace. Unfortunately, such a pattern provides some comfort in the present but allows for desires of revenge to sprout and grow as a poor substitute for justice.

The bigger question is how do you work for justice when you cannot expect the necessary systems to work for that same goal?

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