South Sudan refugees: Overcoming the traumas of war

Refugees from South Sudan arrive at Imvepi refugee settlement in Uganda

One night, at a refugee settlement in Uganda, 26-year-old Joyce (not pictured above) watched in fear as her husband continued to drink and his behaviour became increasingly erratic. Ever since they’d fled the war in South Sudan, her husband’s drinking had gotten worse and sometimes led to violent outbursts. As he became more intoxicated, he started yelling and hitting her. Suddenly, he grabbed a machete and threatened to cut her. Terrified, Joyce grabbed their six children and ran to a neighbour’s tent.

The neighbour let Joyce and the children stay the night, but encouraged Joyce to report the incident to CARE who would be able to help. Joyce took the neighbour’s advice and stayed with her children at the CARE women’s shelter for several weeks, where trained staff provided counselling, food and access to health care for her son who had pneumonia. CARE staff also engaged the local pastor to work with Joyce’s husband on the trauma and issues that were triggering his violent behaviour.

Delphine Pinault, Country Director at CARE Uganda, explains:

The South Sudanese people, especially women and girls, are fleeing from violence, but often carry that violence with them because of the trauma they experience in the process.

“Oftentimes, men experience bouts of hopelessness and low self-esteem after losing everything in South Sudan and engage in negative coping mechanisms like excessive alcohol consumption. This often leads to violent behaviour against women and girls, especially in the home, but also in the settlement.”

Though primarily exercised by men against women and girls, there are also incidences of women experiencing fits of rage and acting out violently, often fueled by alcohol.

William, a community leader
William, a community leader in Imvepi settlement

William (above) is a community leader overseeing 500 households in one of the zones of Imvepi settlement, and describes how alcohol is a huge problem in his community and how it perpetuates violence.

“There’s a woman here who will drink excessively, and then start yelling and fighting physically with the other women,” said William.

I think she’s just so traumatised by what she’s been through in South Sudan, she doesn’t know how to cope.

William is receiving violence prevention training facilitated by CARE that is teaching him ways to handle situations like this, where to report it and how to change attitudes and behaviours within the community to help resolve issues that lead to violence in general, but particularly violence against women and girls. Delphine Pinault explains:

With the alarming levels of trauma amongst refugees fleeing South Sudan, there’s a huge need to not only provide counselling to help them recover, but also work at the community level to change attitudes and behaviours that lead to more violence in the settlements.

One of CARE’s priority interventions for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda is to prevent physical, sexual and emotional violence, particularly against women and girls, and to facilitate access to services for survivors of violence. CARE also works with men and boys on ‘positive masculinity’, helping them to learn to collaborate with women and girls and to resolve conflicts and differences through dialogue. To date, CARE has trained over 100 community leaders in violence prevention and 42 refugee Role Model Men have been trained and have reached 4,336 men in Rhino Settlement.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.