Here our friend from Uganda JJ Paul shares his story of hope through peer support.
MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA HAS NO POWER IN THE FACE OF LOVE AND COMPASSION, TRUE MEANING OF MENTAL HEALTH PEER SUPPORT WORK- A STORY FROM ARUA.
Everybody in this world is equal and yet we are all very different in one way or the other and everybody seen on the streets seem to be having mental illness is not mad. To draw that conclusion it needs your small head but big heart. During my participation for Mental Health Training on Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health in Arua town on 29/06/2015 to 03/07/2015, I happened to take a walk around the town where I previously visited during an assignment by Mental Disability Advocacy Center to carry out Mental Health Research on the Human Rights conditions of mental health patients in the wards in the Regional Referral Hospitals of Uganda and Situation of mental health patients and their careers in the community settings in Uganda and this targeted some specific areas of interest. And my second visit in this town was a year ago when I came for my Honey moon after our wedding. Taking a walk through the busiest street of Arua town called Kampala road and reaching a roundabout near a petrol station,
I glanced at a young man putting on a vest and a short with opened bottom, his hands in his holed pockets with long hair uncombed (looking mad one may conclude), walking to meet me but before we could meet he branched and took another street leading to the bus park. In my heart I wanted to meet this young man and shake his hands out of love the way Africans greet. The difficulties was that he was walking faster and considering the busy evening hour I could not catch him as everybody was crossing here and there.
My chance came to meet this man when I took another street from behind the bus park and at this time i sat in some ladies saloon called Jane Opra Unisex beauty Saloon which my wife previously used when we were in this town during our honey moon visit. After my 30 minutes interactions with these ladies in the saloon, I took a walk coming back to the Hotel where we were spending our nights but before I could make a 5 meters step from the saloon I saw this very man seated on a Calvert by the roadside with his head down right on my right hand side in front of some local eating place called Acholi Inn. With my small head and big heart I stopped and walked closer to him and called him my friend and he lifted his head looked at me and I asked him how he was? He responded that he is fine. In African style I even moved much closer to him to have a hand shake with him and he lifted his hand and greeted me. The next thing I asked was to offer him a bottle of soda which he could pick from that eating place which was behind him. The answer he gave me was that, taking the soda from that place would make him reach home lake since he comes from far off place from the town Centre and he suggested that I buy for him plastic container soda which no body would demand for the empty and he goes and take this soda from home.
I asked him to walk with me inside the eating place to pick the soda of his choice and with his appearance everybody inside the room double looked at him and me and one of the women who knew me to be speaking Luo from the times I was visiting this place, asked me in Luo (inongo laremi ni ki kwene) meaning that, where have you got this friend of yours from? I told her, yeeh, this is my longtime friend. And in my feeling and from the facial expression of everyone in the room I felt that this boy was not free as of the shame from his physical appearance as he even started holding his opened bottom short and trying to cover the exposing privates. To save him, i was to come closer to him and asked him of his choice of the soda and I helped him to pick his soda of choice from the freeze. And he ordered for either sprite or mountain dew pointing from a distance.
With interest and looking at this boy having sense of reality and insides I asked him if he could sit and if he could only have a brief discussion with me before he could go home. He accepted. When we sat, I asked him his name and he told me he is called Alex (and the other name), I asked if he has friends? He told me that uncle, for the last one year I have never got any body that could come closer to me the way you are doing. The only people I have are those ones whom I normally help them carry their Sugar inside their shops when offloaded from the trucks and packed by the roadsides or in front of their shop doors. And when they give me my 2,000= per day I go away. I also told him my name JJ Paul. He further told me that all his other former friends like the OBs have now completed their education, got jobs, married and has children and he finds it very difficult to identify himself with them. Though, there are others who normally greet him when they meet him on the streets and he could be invited to visit them from home but he just finds himself unfit to visit them and interference to their family peace with their wives since he doesn’t even dress well.
I further asked him of his home and family, he told me he comes from Vuara junction about 5 kilometers from the main town. I asked him of which level of education he reached. He told me he went to Maracha Secondary School and stopped only in senior three and he continued telling me these his other stories of why he didn’t continue with his education as because his father died around that time in 2008 and his mother could not continue to pay for his school fees and that made him to end his education just like that. He also told me a lot about his social and general life situations. He said they could not continue to stay in their village because their mother was chased away by the uncles from the village on ground that she refused to be inherited by his uncle and she could not leave them in the village therefore she moved with them to town. And from town their only sister who was a senior four leaver by then was taken care of by some Pastor from Pentecostal church in Kampala at Nsambia and was paid at School and completed a tutorship training and she is teaching at some technical vocational training college in Hoima. Before this process their sister was already having two children and somehow the pastor again felt in love with their sister and produced with her one other child. Unfortunately, one time he came and told their mother that he cannot continue to directly take care of the child and their sister. This is to protect his name from the church and the child was left with their old mother who is in her 60s.
Alex told me that he currently lives with his old mother, three of his sister children and two of his other sisters. In this family they are using two rented grass thatched building with a fairly good one given to his mother and the children and his die hard one without a door.
He mentioned two things: I am not always very sure of my security every night and to overcome coldness, I am using mairungi (one of the most commonly abused drugs in this town). This is to make me strong in the heart and overcome the feeling of the threatening insecure accommodation (he pulled the mairungi leaf from his pockets of the short and he showed me). He added that this drug is so addictive and at times finds it very bitter in its taste. (All these with clear and meaningful English)
With all the challenges that Alex explained to me, I didn’t imagine how my love, compassion and peer support motivation would work and help him. But then I decided one thing as to be concrete in holistically helping him by making appointment to meet him in the town center the next day so as to go and see him and his family from their rented home. We took a journey that day and the journey to his home was exactly as he described in terms of distance and location and we were blessed that we entered his mother rented house when we were fully washed by rain as we could not stop the boda boda who was carrying the two of us on his motorcycle since we advanced in the rain and by the time we were entering the house we were already wet.
Alex mother on her bare foot expressed her joy with tears when responding to my explanation of how I got Alex and became friend to him just from the street, and her word was just being thankful and asking God to bless me. And to Alex was a reminder since she said she has ever been telling Alex not to lose hope. The fear she told me was how Alex frustration was taking him very negatively. She added that she nearly lost hope since Alex personal hygiene deteriorated and losing touch with reality for which it was not surprising because she knew Alex tried but the daily life challenges around Alex was too much. My major interest was to see where Alex sleeps and the photo below is the house where he uses. And what he sleeps on is the empty polyethen bag of charcoal which he uses as his mat.
I knew that I didn’t have much I could do for this family but was aware that God is the only provider for such a destitute family and God can raise people from grass to grace and from nothing to something. And requested to pray with them and so we did. Prayer is practical and yet with the little money I had, I thought of taking Alex to a nearby barber shop yet for another practical thing other than the prayer we made so that he could shave his hair.
That choice strengthen Alex hope and relationship with me and he began telling me of some of his friends and relatives that could have been of help and requested me to share with such people of any possibility of helping them as such a family.
The next appointment was the next day which was my last evening for my official program in Arua. And at 5:30pm as time we agreed to meet was the time I got Alex seated by the road side waiting for me. The only friend and my next hope and social connection were to take Alex to the salon business woman (Jane +256772697398) at Opra Unisex beauty salon. When I explained the circumstances around Alex to the business woman, she thanked God for what he has done for Alex through me and pledged to buy for Alex a shirt and a new short and take Alex to church for thank giving and revival prayers. And she further said that she will help Alex for any social connection where possible including getting some work for Alex to do. Thank God, when I make follow up phone calls , this woman-Jane had bought for Alex the things she pledged to buy and she shares with me that Alex has greatly improved and transformed?!!!!!!
Nyeko Jolly John Paul
Mental Health Uganda-Gulu Branch
C/O PO BOX 160,