• Banner photo credit: Luca Galbiati

BNUU* works in Agago District – a remote corner in the north east of Uganda, which was the battleground of a sustained and brutal conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan army (the UPDF) for more than 20 years. The LRA killed and terrorised thousands of civilians, and abducted at least 30,000 children, forcing them to be soldiers, porters and sex slaves.

Some 1.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs) were herded into squalid and over-crowded IDP camps, ostensibly for their own safety, yet without any infrastructure, adequate protection or sanitation, leaving them vulnerable to abuse from both the LRA and the UPDF, and prone to sickness and starvation.

Once traditionally successful farming communities, their society was tested to breaking point. Proud farmers who were no longer able to access their land, lost their wealth and social status, and lived on hand-outs for years; children who returned from abduction and war were unrecognisable to their mothers; a generation of youth only knew life in an IDP camp; the elderly saw their strong, family-based community disintegrate before their eyes.

The stress of war and living in overcrowded IDP camps destroyed the fabric of society. Traditional farming skills once passed down through the generations were lost and people struggled to sustain small businesses. This protracted conflict left a legacy of severe and widespread mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

Photo credit: Luca Galbiati

BNUU has been working in Agago District since 2018, working to address the mental health legacy of the war, as well as supporting people with mental illness/epilepsy in other ways such as through establishing self-help groups through which members can grow their savings and start livelihoods. Working with local health centres and structures, including the Dr. Ambrosoli Memorial Hospital in Kalongo Town Council, it carries out community awareness about mental illness, encouraging people to seek treatment at the monthly mental health clinics, where it also provides counselling and health education talks.

*BNUU originated as part of BasicNeeds UK, but evolved as its own independent organisation and entity in 2017.