Success Stories

Santo Okema’s breakthrough from psychological and physical distress

Santo Okema’s breakthrough from psychological and physical distress

In 2002, as the war in Northern Uganda intensified with ambushes and abductions by The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Santo Okema and his wife plus their seven children fled their home village Laraba to the nearby villages for safety. In the night, Okema would sneak out and return home to uproot some cassava for the family’s survival. But on one fateful day, Okema didn’t escape the rebels; the rebels ganged up on him, whisked and left him unconscious. Okema was further tortured and shot at for being a government representative at the level of Local Council I. Rebels suspected government representatives and leaders to be spies aiding their capture and eventual overthrow.

“The rebels recovered an LCI stamp from my pocket and to them, it was proof of my support to the government. They beat and shot at me warning me against supporting government efforts to fight the LRA. Hours later, when I regained my consciousness, every part of my body ached with wounds left in a pool of blood,” said Okema.

For Okema, the hard times were not about to end; at the hospital where he was ferried to receive medical attention, doctors only offered pain killers. At discharge, Okema was advised against doing heavy work which he most times resisted as the family’s breadwinner. Back home, the rebels burnt down all the houses, food stores and gardens, rendering Okema and several others helpless. Livelihood was entirely dependent on food aid. About the same time, Okema lost both of his parents leaving him with a huge burden of taking care of his siblings and relatives.

This was the genesis of Okema’s depression, anxiety and trauma as he cites,

“Every morning, I woke up to a huge family to feed. I kept wondering how in my state as a crippled and psychologically harmed person would survive. On some lucky days, we would survive on food relief while others meant sleeping on empty stomachs. I took to alcohol as a coping mechanism to manage the stress, depression and trauma,” said Okema.

Worse still, Okema lived with the pain and discomfort of bullets in the arms and leg. Suffering and trouble had camped in Okema’s family until 2018, when a team of social workers and psychologists from TPO Uganda under the ‘Provision of integrated Physical and Psychological Rehabilitation Assistance to War Victims in Northern Uganda’ project, with funding from the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV, rolled out plans to conduct psychosocial and physical rehabilitation sessions in Pungole Parish, Angagura Sub County, Pader district. He was shortlisted and enrolled for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions, a journey that he undertook for close to three months. During that period, Okema recalls encountering with social workers and psychologists on management approaches for depression, anxiety and related post traumatic events.

“I also received specialized medical service from TPO Uganda through physical rehabilitation. Surgery was conducted to remove the three bullets and some fragments. I was also treated and healed from alcohol addiction which has enabled me to regain my productive life,” said Okema.

Today, Okema is actively engaged in agricultural activities like farming and weaving baskets. In fact, he has already saved enough and bought two cows to supplement his family’s livelihood.  His hope is for TPO Uganda to extend similar support to other war victims in the community who are struggling with mental health and psychosocial problems.

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