We sat down with Ernest Sugule, the founder of Dungu-based Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People (SAIPED) to ask a few questions about his experience working to end LRA violence in central Africa and why he partnered with us to create the two Mobile Cinema films. SAIPED has been our partner throughout our work creating Mobile Cinema programs in DR Congo and we wanted to hear why he believes in this alternative approach to creating change in communities affected by war.
DTJ and Invisible Children partnered together to provide an in-depth training to representatives from local organizations in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan to work with local communities on community-based defection efforts. The program includes Community Defection Committees and Mobile Cinema screenings, which target preparing communities to receive LRA combatants when they do surrender. The training included five days of in-depth discussions in Kampala and a five-day field component in DRC where theory was put to practice.
Why is defection important? Encouraging and facilitating the peaceful surrender of LRA combatants is one of the most effective ways to reduce threats to communities in central Africa and weaken the LRA’s ability to effectively operate. Defection is a non-violent strategy to remove the LRA from the battlefield.
The main goals of entire Community Defection Committee (CDC) and Mobile Cinema (MC) strategy is to increase positive defections from the LRA and to protect communities who are still vulnerable to LRA attacks.
DTJ and IC developed a thorough manual which serves as a guide for local partners to facilitate their implementation of the Community Defection and Mobile Cinema program model and as a resource for the theory, methodology, activity and reporting expectations. The program was designed by DTJ based on field research and is outlined in the report “Come out and live among us” which will be released in early December.
Father Ernest, founder of SAIPED, comments on the training:
“I see three pillars that are good – 1 is to have a common regional understanding – that these three countries have a common understanding of what CDC and Mobile Cinema is – the 2nd – knowing each other – knowing the capacity of each other and learning from one another. The third pillar reiterates what Fr Mark said – connecting theory with practice – we were able to connect what we learned in Kampala to the realities on the ground. This is the first project linking these three together. Gaining from local experience and local understanding of the problem and empowering local people to solve their problems themselves. Based on this its a very powerful tool – and it goes with my own philosophy of thinking – it is the locals who know the problem better – working with them is the best solution.”
Photograph by Lindsay Branham of field-training component in Djabir, DRC.
Our newest Mobile Cinema film about an LRA child soldier who escapes and encounters a local hunter who has to decide whether to risk his life and help him or not is underway in DRC. The production team is working with a Dungu-based non-profit organization called SAIPED (Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People). The team held auditions with over 100 people who tried out for the various roles in the film. The final cast is a selection of first-time actors who have all been personally affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. The final film will be toured in Mobile Cinema screenings by SAIPED and other central African-based organizations along with an in-depth facilitated workshop to educate communities on the importance of defection and how to be prepared when LRA combatants do escape.
The production process itself is highly collaborative – from the story nexus to acting workshops to actual shooting, we lean heavily on our partners to inform the nuance of every scene and every piece of dialogue. We are all very excited for the final product to come.
Photograph of Director Andrew Ellis, co-Director Alex Mallis, Production Associate Margaux Fitoussi and Joseph Vungula and the two main actors, Innocent Mbula and Godefroid Malaka prepare for the scene when they escape from the LRA. Dungu, DRC.
Our local partner, SAIPED (Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People) has just finished the expansion of the Mobile Cinema Reintegration program to over 12 communities throughout northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The 8-session program is a community-based approach designed to help formerly abducted children by the LRA come home.
At the end of the program in each community, a community gift, decided between SAIPED and the community was presented. So far, there are multiple small pharmacies now in operation, to provide needed medicine and generate a revenue, and brick machines for communities to re-build the structures destroyed by the LRA.
We are extremely proud of the SAIPED Mobile Cinema facilitation team that braved destroyed roads, the rainy season and other unforeseeable delays in order to bring the intervention to the communities they deemed were most in need.
Preliminary data analysis shows an incredible 60% reduction in trauma and psychological distress symptoms. This means children are reporting being sad less, isolating themselves less, and are being accepted by their peers.
Over 3,000 children in NE DRC have now been through the intervention. And counting.
DTJ’s Lindsay Branham just completed a three-country research trip to understand how local Zande communities, the population group most affected by the LRA today and who currently live in the midst of the LRA’s area of operations, can also play a critical role in defection – and how they are willing to take on that role and be partners in these efforts.
Lindsay Branham and Margaux Fitoussi conducted over 190 interviews across three countries, utilizing a standardized questionnaire set that looked at everything from community definitions of peace and forgiveness, to barriers to defection, to how current defection actors, including MONUSCO and the UPDF are perceived by local communities.
The final report will be released Dec. 9th that outlines their findings.
Photograph by Lindsay Branham, Mboki, CAR.
Jean Bosco is Mobile Cinema’s Project Coordinator, leading our local team of facilitators on the ground as they continue to expand the program into 12 more communities across NE DRC. Beyond his contagious laughter and unceasing positivity, Jean Bosco knows how to get down on anyone’s level and says working with children is, “in his blood.”
Jean Bosco has been a strong human rights advocate. He previously worked as a WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) field assistant for UNICEF, a Human Rights Officer with our local partner, SAIPED, and was a leader for building houses for IDPs (internally displaced persons) in conflict-affected areas in DRC.
Jean Bosco has experienced LRA violence firsthand: members of his family were killed by the LRA and others were forced to leave their home villages and live as IDPs in Duru, where Jean Bosco takes care of them all. He calls Congo a “small paradise” and is grieved to watch members of this community live in a constant state of fear and trauma.
He’s dedicated to ending this long-lasting conflict and bringing peace to the DRC. When asked why he chose to work with Mobile Cinema, he said: ”Mobile Cinema is a very good program. It impacts people so that they could have a better life in the future. The psychological component of the program is a critical part that NGOs here forget.”
Help Jean Bosco bring peace and psychological relief to more communities in NE DRC: Donate to our Mobile Cinema Expansion.
Space could be the most generous thing we create. Generous in its potential, arduous in its process. In conflict areas, space dissolves into polarities: enemy, ally, perpetrator, victim. And these extremes become the birthplace for misunderstanding, stigma, and hate. As militant groups, armed groups, and rebel groups war with weapons, the battle for peace in communities is fought out amidst these seas of extremes. Where this unnoticed fight wages, there are no treaties or negotiations to forge absolution. Peace hinges on the perceptions and misperceptions of individuals, trying to respond to and cope with the devastation wrought by conflict in their families, schools and communities. This unusual frontline is the landscape where space matters most.
I have spent a good portion of the last six years in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo trying to understand the reasons why children are used as one of the most disposable tools in modern day war. Dispensable, in numerous supply, and with a seemingly endless capacity for brutality, children are the weapon of choice by many armed groups in eastern DRC, where war has raged on and off since 1998, claiming over 6 million lives in its wake. Through documentary film, photography and working with humanitarian groups, children in armed conflict has become my focus.
A Mayi-Mayi child soldier, Kiwanja, DRC. Thousands of children leave armed groups only to return to fighting due to poverty, lack of opportunity or new flares of violence.
Lindsay Branham for DTJ
But their stories, like so many others in the developing world, are often exported out of war and onto the computer screens and television sets of the western world. Another kind of export, story is monetized. As I navigated between the industries of journalism, humanitarian assistance and film, the individuals I had interviewed, photographed and written about, from rebel leaders to child soldiers, mothers, fathers, teachers, peace-builders and warmongerers, I started to hear a din of noise rise from their common experience. Can story be more than a vehicle for an endless chronicle of violence and devastation? Could story transcended traditional distribution channels? Does story hold a power that could change and influence the ramifications of war now? Could story actually become a tool for peace?
John Lederach, a professor of International Peacebuilding from Notre Dame’s lauded Peace and Conflict studies program, writes eloquently about how in peacebuilding, one of the most strategic ways to pursue peace is to, “circle to truth through story.”
These concepts of circling to truth through story and the medium of story holding the potential to be a local expression and tool for peace, inspired me to pilot these ideas. I wrote a grant proposal to test the methodology of what we were calling Mobile Cinema, screening locally-created, collaborative films as an alternative way to address such nuanced issues as stigma, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace. We chose to pilot Mobile Cinema in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an area plagued by the violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Thousands of children had been abducted, and many had escaped and returned home to face yet another set of challenges: reintegrating peacefully into their homes and communities and overcoming negative stigma.
When a child has spent the last year in abduction, forced to witness and commit atrocities, and then returns home only to be categorized as “ex-LRA,” excluded from social circles and rejected from communal life, this child is now without a belonging, and stripped of his/her identity. What if story could help restore a community’s perception of this formerly abducted child as just, child? What if changes in cognition towards this child could result in lasting understanding, empathy and finally acceptance?
And so we decided to create fictional narrative localized films to spark discussions around these ideas; an indirect way to circle to truth through the vehicle of story.
But I wanted to see more than just perception change happen in communities. The levels of trauma and psychological distress being experienced by these children was immense and I wanted to explore if there was a way to combine film with psychology and create a more robust intervention that actually reduced trauma and increased acceptance.
In December 2011, I had the opportunity to address a group of child protection experts at Harvard University’s “Adolescent Rights” conference that was looking at the greatest issues children face and the way forward for us as practioners attempting to address this crisis. Out of this gathering I was introduced to Paul O’Callaghan, an educational psychologist from Queens University, Belfast, who had implemented several psychosocial interventions addressing children affected by trauma in eastern DRC, and his experience and expertise in this area is rare. He was interested by my proposal to use film in a larger psychosocial intervention. Dr. O’Callaghan and his colleagues at Queens University, Belfast adapted an existing psychosocial intervention for the NE DRC context and we decided to partner together to create the region’s first community-based, resilience-focused psychosocial intervention targeting formerly abducted children and their communities using Mobile Cinema.
Before we began, in January, 2012, I headed to Northeastern DRC with Jocelyn Kelly from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to conduct a robust qualitative assessment of the affects of the Lord’s Resistance Army on formerly abducted children and to lay the groundwork for the future pilot program. We co-authored a report detailing our findings which can be found here: “We Suffer From War and More War: An assessment of the impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army on formerly abducted children and their communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
We were repeatedly told by formerly abducted children that all they wanted was to return to “normal”. Community leaders experessed distress over the state of children who had returned from the LRA. The levels of trauma were high and they did not know how to help them. We were asked by community leaders to provide tools and resources so they could help these children reintegrate themselves. They wanted to lead the process.
From this qualitative research and at this bidding, the building blocks of the intervention came to being. We partnered with a local organization in Dungu, DRC, called SAIPED (Solidarité et Assistance intégrale aux Personnes Démunies) led by Ernest Sugule and together adapted a psychosocial intervention manual, trained a team of facilitators, identified communities and began the research phase, designed by Paul, that included a series of 84 questions that identified levels of trauma, psychological distress, stigma, functioning, etc. Caregivers were selected for each child participating in the intervention who were asked an additional set of 64 questions to deduct their perception of their child’s mental health state as well as their own. The randomized control trial Paul designed and the entire research methodology will be discussed in a future post.
Concurrently, Ricky Norris, a filmmaker at DTJ and I spearheaded the Mobile Cinema creation. It was critical that we produced localized, collaborative film, where even the very story line was something that came from communities themselves. I led a series of focus groups with formerly abducted children and their families who openly elucidated on their experiences and what they wished had been done differently to help them reintegrate into their communities better. They defined “acceptance” and “home” and “identity” and “normal” for me. From their eloquent and vulnerable descriptions of their experiences, I wrote a screenplay for a four-part narrative film series about a brother, Jean-Pierre, and sister, Marie, who had been abducted by the LRA and were attempting to come home. Each part of the film held specific messaging that fit into the overall psychosocial intervention and the 8-session platform addressing topics from psychoeducation to the role of the parent and community leader in reintegrating formerly abducted children to active participation in community restoration. We then worked with SAIPED’s theatre troupe who had experience producing sensitization dramas, cast the film and went to work filming it. Characters memorized their parts and we adapted the films as we went according to what was most culturally relevant, natural and familiar. The filming process itself was illuminating, specifically for the children who were playing the roles of formerly abducted children. Their identification with an abducted child by playing that character was quite poignant for them.
Upon wrapping the shoot, Ricky edited the films together and we conducted test screenings with SAIPED staff, a local mental health expert and Dr. O’Callaghan to ensure the films would not cause any secondary trauma or elicit any kind of negative triggers. Once vetted, the films were ready to be included in the overall psychosocial program.
Over the next six weeks, we piloted the full program in Kiliwa and Limai, two communities chosen both for their exposure to LRA violence and their vulnerability to future attacks. The pilot program stretched over 16 sessions in each community, and included 320 people. We delivered the quantitative questionnaires at four points in time: before the intervention, after the first round, after the second round and three months later in order to isolate effectiveness and determine longer term mental health impacts as a direct result of the intervention.
The quantitative results we gathered indicate that over time the intervention was successful in reducing depression and anxiety and adult reporting of conduct problems. This was critical since our intervention had a resilience focus not a trauma focus. I will detail the differences here and why this is important in a future post.
But the use of film, in particular, story, to facilitate lively discussions around peace and acceptance and identity happened, and elicited a stronger response than we even anticipated. After each film screening, the facilitators would lead discussion groups, where character’s behaviors would be analyzed and lessons learned would be shared in small groups and then publically in front of the entire group.
Due to the quantitative data, we were able to conclude that the intervention helped to demystify and de-stigmatise the effects of the LRA and provide a platform to discuss this openly, thereby reducing the avoidance and intrusions individual children experienced.
The films, their own story, created an alternate and neutral space for empathy, trust, friendship, forgiveness and understanding to grow organically, between child and adult, formerly abducted child and non-abducted child, accepted and rejected. Polarities were dissolved and acceptance began. The space created through the films was itself a vehicle of peace.
I see space as the beginning of the beginning. The journey continues much further beyond the porous borders space creates, hammered out into the daily life rituals and realities of communities in conflict. But once fashioned into potential, it can always be a safe place to return to. This established trust can become the nexus for unity. And this is what I have seen.
Now our chief has started to fight for the benefit of children who have returned from the LRA.
— Head teacher, Limai
Before, our community was not united. This program helped us to love one another. Now we are starting to be united.
— Parent of formerly abducted child, Limai
And now, we stand on the precipice of another horizon. I am about to return to NE DRC and support SAIPED to expand this intervention to 920 more people in LRA-affected areas. We will work in partnership to create more spaces to circle to truth through story, to seek peace together by reframing the very ways we see one another.One formerly abducted child who went through our program told me that, “this program explained to others to have them stop calling me names. And they have stopped.” What this means for this child is that he is now accepted, that he now belongs, again. This child’s story alone makes all of this worth it. His encounter with equality, empathy and kindness. These things are just as significant players in the peacebuilding process as any kind of formal peacebuilding strategy. Peace is not constrained to the cessation of hostilities alone. Peace for these children could very much equate to the eradication of violent thoughts and perceptions towards them, to an end to their nightmares and scary thoughts and fear. Peace could mean being invited and welcomed back into their communities, to a return to “normal.” Can we not be part of this kind of peacebuilding?This approach works. Our quantitative data is evidence of a better quality of life for people who continue to live within the daily affects of war; they still have to face daily insecurity, but are living with lower levels of trauma symptoms and psychological distress levels. This matters.When we returned to conduct the post evaluation three months after the pilot program, people were still utilizing the skills they were taught during the sessions to manage their own depression, anxiety and trauma, and formerly abducted and non-abducted children were playing together. This space had created a kind of internal peace in these communities, a unity that was being fleshed out by healthier children and families and within the community as a whole.Change is absolutely possible, despite the circumstances that attest to the contrary.Join us as we go back to NE Congo to support our local partner as they serve communities already engaged in heroic work to overcome war. And be part of these circles of truth.
“Under the Mango Tree” a radio documentary that highlights DTJ’s psychosocial program in Kiliwa, DRC in collaboration with Queens University, Belfast aired today throughout Ireland on RTE.ie Radio 1 platformed through their Documentary on One series.
The documentary is personal and brings a patient voice to the conversation around children affected by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.
We are pretty proud of the kids in Kiliwa – they have come so far from the trauma of LRA violence and we’d sure love you to meet them through this piece – hopefully you’ll take some time to listen here.
We got to spend all spring with them. Spend 38 minutes with them.
Lindsay Branham Jocelyn Kelly
Program Director Director, Women in War Program
Community Suffering Unceasing in LRA-affected areas; International Response Remains Insufficient
New Study Reveals Exhaustive Impacts of Violence
WASHINGTON – LRA – affected communities cite unending effects of LRA violence, detailing the struggle to maintain financial viability, agricultural access, security and protection. A new report from Discover the Journey and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative marks one of the first efforts to systematically document the wide and severe impact of violence on every area of life for formerly abducted children and their communities in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).The humanitarian needs of the communities devastated by Joseph Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) must be a top priority during the UN Security Council’s meeting on Wednesday.
Respondents in the study stressed that the international community must assist with providing essential services through long-term engagement, including life-saving health services; improving water and sanitation access; and providing psychosocial and educational interventions to formerly abducted children and adults. Additional areas of need emphasized by respondents include:
- Growing rates of HIV/AIDS; Service providers interviewed cited that HIV/AIDS has become a significant and increasing threat.
- Psychosocial needs of children returning from abduction by the LRA, specifically young girls who face a myriad of reproductive health and psychosocial consequences;
- Communities’ restricted access to economic and agricultural opportunities; specifically, their inability to cultivate new lands to serve host as well as displaced populations and its compounded negative effects on food insecurity.
While current conditions mandate emergency-level intervention, respondents assert the need for solutions that will last into the future and address resulting conditions beyond the immediate impact of violent atrocities.
The study affirms the internationally accepted need to capture the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, and secure peace for the region. The LRA is a brutal rebel movement that has committed some of the most grievous human rights abuses in Africa in recent decades. The group is particularly known for its merciless conscription of children into its ranks. Currently, the LRA is active in South Sudan, northeastern DRC and Central African Republic. The dire impact of the LRA’s predatory violence includes the looting of possessions, abduction of children and massacre of civilians, as well as the compounded downstream health, psychosocial and economic repercussions
“I don’t know why the LRA exists,” said a leader of an internally displaced persons camp near Dungu, a town in northeastern DRC. “I feel like they’ve just come to kill all of us.”
Although fear of continued violence remains, respondents continually highlighted the need for a more holistic, long-term engagement to protect civilians and establish stability.
“The DTJ and HHI initiative is breaking new ground in that it is among the first to undertake significant analysis of the impact of the LRA on the people of northeastern Congo. This is an area of focus largely neglected despite calls for action to the contrary by humanitarians working in the region,” said Ian Rowe, the Head of Unit DDR/RR – Political Analysis & LRA Focal Point for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rowe also emphasizes that this report provides a needed starting point in highlighting the long-term consequences of LRA atrocities on Congolese communities, while also stressing that the international community must conduct more extensive consultation with a broader selection of communities throughout the Ueles in order to grasp the true depth and complexity this region of the Congo endures.
The study asserts that integrated solutions are needed to respond to multi-level problems – continuing to work with communities to build on current protection and resilience strategies, while strengthening the national and international response, will be critical to addressing the continued LRA threat.
HARVARD HUMANITARIAN INITIATIVE
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a university-wide center involving multiple entities within the Harvard community that provide expertise in public health, medicine, social science, management, and other disciplines to promote evidence-based approaches to humanitarian assistance.
DISCOVER THE JOURNEY
Discover the Journey (DTJ) is a nexus of journalists, filmmakers, storytellers, artists and supporters who use media to expose injustice facing children in-crisis. DTJ’s solution uses media creation, distribution and leverage to contribute to the human rights movement protecting children globally.
In January, DTJ’s Lindsay Branham and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Jocelyn Kelly traveled to northeastern DRC to systematically document the impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They guest blogged for the NYT here. Today DTJ and HHI are releasing the findings from their research in a report titled, “We Suffer From War and More War”: An Assessment of the Impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army on Formerly Abducted Children and their Communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tomorrow the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the LRA and what can be done to address the crisis. In lieu of this meeting, the report urges that the humanitarian needs of communities devastated by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) be a top priority.
Respondents in the study stressed that the international community must assist with providing essential services through long-term engagement, including life-saving health services; improving water and sanitation access; and providing psychosocial and educational interventions to formerly abducted children and adults. While these communities are facing emergency-level challenges now, the study asserts the need for solutions that will last into the future.
While this report affirms the internationally accepted need to capture the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, and secure peace for the region, the report also highlights the need for a more holistic, long-term engagement to protect civilians and establish stability. Areas of need that study respondents emphasized are the growing rates of HIV/AIDS; the psychosocial needs of children returning from abduction by the LRA, specifically young girls who face a myriad of reproductive health and psychosocial consequences; and communities’ restricted access to economic and agricultural opportunities.
The LRA is a brutal rebel movement that has committed some of the most grievous human rights abuses in Africa in recent decades. The group is particularly known for its merciless conscription of children into its ranks. Currently, the LRA is active in South Sudan, northeastern DRC and Central African Republic.
“I don’t know why the LRA exists,” said a leader of an internally displaced persons displacement camp near Dungu, a town in northeastern DRC. “I feel like they’ve just come to kill all of us.”
The dire impact of the LRA’s predatory violence includes the looting of possessions, abduction of children and massacre of civilians, as well as the compounded downstream health, psychosocial and economic repercussions. The study asserts that integrated solutions are needed to respond to multi-level problems – continuing to work with communities to build on current protection and resilience strategies, while strengthening the national and international response, will be critical to addressing the continued LRA threat.