Success Stories

Hassan Baryesiima; saving self to mentally redeem other refugees

Hassan Baryesiima; saving self to mentally redeem other refugees

My challenges started when I was only 10 years, war forced us out of our home country DRC to Uganda. Four family members including myself, two brothers and my mother made it to Uganda. Our father was killed by the rebels, but until today, we don’t know whether he was burnt or even buried. The memories remained fresh for many years and, it was tough carrying on with life. How could we even carry on without a father? Only TPO Uganda mental health interventions helped me to overcome. That is why I am happy to share my recovery story…….

Hassan Baryesiima is a 30-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), currently living in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in Kyegegwa District, Western Uganda. His recovery story is not just an ordinary one; he worked to support many to recover from mental challenges that he equally battled in silence.


Baryesiima’s first encounter with TPO Uganda was as an applicant for the Volunteer Psychosocial Assistant (VPA) role in his community under the APEAL II (Access to Protection Empowerment, Accountability and Leadership to refugees and host communities in Southwestern Uganda and West Nile, a consortium project that is funded by ECHO (European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid). TPO Uganda works with VPA’s as part of the Community Support Structures to provide translation services to their counterparts especially during the psychoeducation and group therapy sessions. At first, he saw this as a viable opportunity to make ends meet as a young man struggling to forge life. Like many other refugees, Baryesiima had failed to join the university due to lack of school fees. And this shrunk the space for formal opportunities. So, the family’s source of livelihood remained odd jobs around the community. Amidst the struggle, some of his peers initiated him into drugs.

“I started with marijuana with the intention of worrying less about our challenges. But after some time, I graduated from just a user to a farmer. I would cultivate marijuana in some hidden spots in the forests. I would then later sell it in the towns to other young boys and that was my means of survival,” said Baryesiima.

Severally, Baryesiima smuggled the marijuana and made way to Kampala. He recalls selling the drug to many young people in slums around Kampala. And for five years, he had no encounter with his family back in the refugee camp. But one morning, Baryesiima returned to the camp to check on his mother. As he stayed back, a childhood friend referred him to TPO Uganda.

“My friend was already working as a VPA with TPO Uganda. He encouraged me to apply for the same opportunity and that was the start of my engagement with TPO Uganda,” said Baryesiima.

For a while, everything concerning Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) was abstract. But through interactions with other VPAs and attending series of trainings, Baryesiima eventually fit in so well. He has done this since 2021.

“During the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions, drug abuse was highlighted as one of the major drivers of mental health challenges especially among young people. But I was torn between stopping the vice and maintaining life. After several sessions, it started haunting me. I chose to start my recovery journey by myself without revealing to anyone. The doctor in me paused, and I became another patient,” said Baryesiima.

As a personal initiative, Baryesiima started with going for a day without drugs. This would later turn into three days and later a week. There was no chance to reverse. But the influence from friends and peers chanced; as his friends kept pushing him back, Baryesiima took to other productive activities like running a small-scale eatery business to stick to the new life.

He recalls, “Joining TPO Uganda changed my life and restored my hope. I was initiated into marijuana due to bad thoughts of growing up without a father. And that left me hopeless for any better or meaningful life”.

As he progressed on the journey of abandoning drugs, Baryesiima sought for additional support. He opened up to the TPO Uganda Clinical Psychologist who advised that he enrolls into a CBT group. Baryesiima joined Umoja CBT group (loosely translated as ‘unity’). This meant juggling as a translator and a patient on therapy. Like other group members, Baryesiima graduated and also joined the group’s Village Saving and Lending Association (VSLA) initiative

“We started with weekly savings of Ushs500 ($0.13) but have since grown to not less than Ushs2000 ($0.53).

From the savings, Baryesiima has continuously diversified his income streams from a small-scale eatery business to rearing local poultry chicken.  But what is even more exciting is how Baryesiima has transformed into a pillar of change in the community.

“In the evenings after work, I mobilize young people and take them through the dangers of drugs and how they can be supported to abandon and revive their lives for better. I am now a point of referral for change in my communities.,” said Baryesiima, also adding,

“I appreciate TPO Uganda for supporting me and giving me an opportunity that turned into the genesis of my recovery. If not for it, I would be worse or even dead by now. I am now a practitioner of the gospel that I preach in my community”.

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