Cultural Infusion? Religious Leadership in Trauma Recovery in Northern Uganda–Guest Post by Lynda Buckowski

acholiLast week I blogged about ‘Culture – A Source of Unity or a Barrier’ – which was the text of my address at Uganda Cultural Day in Belfast. I noted that this past year, an Irish student on our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Lynda Buckowski, travelled to Uganda to research the work of Gulu Child.

In response to my blog, Lynda agreed to offer some reflections based on her research in Northern Uganda. She focuses on the integration of different cultural methods of trauma recovery, providing a picture of how the Catholic Church in Northern Uganda is blending traditional and Western approaches. She also cites the example of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative.

Cultural Infusion? Religious Leadership in Trauma Recovery in Northern Uganda by Lynda Buckowski

uganda 12 lyn 047So much of the time people view culture as a divisive, headless beast – a manifestation of fear, mistrust, and jealousy. Sadly if history is to teach us anything it is that time and time again the negatives of culture have been latched upon as tools of further disconnection during periods of civil uncertainty. Culture is however a force that can be beneficial, inspirational and even surprising in its manifestations throughout society- culture can unite!

There has been considerable debate surrounding the subject of trauma recovery in Africa. There is an emerging realisation that whilst western models of trauma treatment may be deemed successful within the context of their own setting, they face considerable challenges when placed within the external or foreign setting of African culture. A clash of culture so to speak.

But my investigation of cultural infusion within Northern Uganda places doubt on the ‘durable’ reputation that surrounds cultural constraints.

My interview with Bishop Sabino of the Arua diocese in Northern Uganda was fruitful on many accounts, especially concerning the subject of social receptiveness. Whilst mainly considering the place of tradition within the modern Catholic Church he also considered the newly outlined plan (whilst in its early days of development), of the provision of counselling services within the respective area.

Musing on his recent involvement in trauma recovery and social welfare, he demonstrated surprise at the lack of knowledge his constituents displayed regarding counselling services and other forms of western psycho-social support. In an exercise of community awareness, himself along with fellow members of his community including teachers and police personnel visited survivors of direct LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) violence.

The majority of those interviewed by the Bishop viewed the provision of western styled services as a positive step forward in social rehabilitation rather than intrusionary as previously considered. Basic services he agreed were limited within the region’s peace building operations.

But Bishop Sabino expressed hope and determination that the Ugandan Catholic church could successfully introduce such services to the surrounding areas, not as a replacement of the current traditional methods of recovery but as a means of symbiotic reinforcement for community healing.

The Bishops account of the introduction of western approaches to trauma recovery within Northern Uganda is a realistic and positive account of cultural infusion within a post conflict setting. Not to be viewed as a limitation towards reconciliation, the interchange of culture in this instance, whilst small scale, highlights the adaptability of ideology and the processes whereby cultures and ideologies are socially constructed.

Importantly the identification of a suitable medium for cultural dispersal may be the most valuable discovery of such research. In this instance the Catholic Church was identified as just one guiding force and viable route forward within in the widespread provision of counselling services in the northern districts of Uganda.

In a country where faith is of equal importance as tribal affiliation, it could be argued that the religious orders are among the most valuable assets the country currently possesses in the next phase of social regeneration. Their continuous involvement in the peace process, through the establishment of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative ARPLI, (comprising of leaders from six different religious denominations/groups), is another example of interfaith leadership and highlights not only the cooperation between the various religious organisations of Uganda but also their potential strength in the development of Ugandan society.

Advocating dialogue, negotiation, mediation and reconciliation throughout their involvement in the peace process, the ARLPI further illustrates a positive coalition between ethnic tradition and modern religion and demonstrates cultural infusion at its strongest.

In light of such admirable collaboration it is with a hopeful heart that I posit the religious orders involvement in the provision of mental health services as a future necessity within Uganda. Taking similar initiative as the ARPLI in the establishment of a joint organisation is not just a logical step forward but also one amounting to collective responsibility.

Change must be viewed as internally driven rather than forcibly applied. Any change that directly affects the social value system must be conducted in a positive and respectful manor. Thus reflection on the leadership position such religious institutions currently provide within society is not only important within the wider platform of peace building but also a matter of urgency for wider social care in general. Cultural infusion can be successful- it’s the right vector for change which proves to be the greatest challenge for success.

Devotion in this case just proves to be amongst the best fits for instigating transformation.

(Images from the website of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative and from Lynda Buckowski)

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