When I arrived, one of the first things Sarah said was “your trip is too short”, and she was right! But quoting her concluding remarks “it was short but sweet”! And very sweet it was. My time with the Lively Minds crew in Uganda has come to an end and I leave feeling energised; glowing with fantastic memories and an abundance of new knowledge.
When I initially approached Lively Minds to volunteer, Alison suggested that I facilitate training with the team. The opportunity to share some of knowledge that I’ve been fortunate to enjoy during my training as a clinical psychologist was one of the reasons I decided to visit Lively Minds Uganda. The only requirement was that the training should fit with Lively Minds aims and could be delivered by the team after I leave. I didn’t come to Uganda with a plan but after spending a few days with the team I started to build an appreciation for some of the difficulties that the people in the villages face, which in turn rise as obstacles to successfully implementing the play centre projects. And as we see across culture and context, one of most challenging problems we all face is our relationship with our self. In the villages surrounding Jinja, many of the women have low self-esteem and low self worth as a result of chronic adversity including (but certainly not limited to) oppression, abuse, illiteracy, and poverty.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, engagement with the play centres is having an immeasurable impact on these women’s self esteem and confidence. And of course it should, evidence from psychological research consistently highlights that engaging in meaningful activities that match with your values is very often powerful enough to combat low mood. Acknowledging that conversations and workshops on improving and maintaining good mental health are also important, Lively Minds runs Improving Your Self-Esteem and Maintaining Good Well Being programmes. I was delighted to see that these programmes draw on existing evidence by employing behavioural activation tools, cognitive change strategies and present moment practices. Anecdotally, the team say that these workshops are very powerful as they provide a safe space for these women to talk openly about their sense of self, which for many is an entirely new experience.
Given their power, we become blinded by our cannots and failures; our successes and strengths are discounted, immediately erased. And through no fault of our own, our stories about ourselves become problem saturated; leaving us stuck, feeling and being helpless and disempowered. I wondered if this was true for the women that Lively Minds work with. As naive observer I saw skilful, strong, resilient women working as best they could to care for their children, provide for the families and offer more to their community by running the play centres. Yet, the stories that were told were loaded with themes of hopelessness and sadness.
In light of this (and sticking to what I know) I offered the Lively Minds team training in a resilience-focused intervention called the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a psychosocial support tool that originated in South Africa which uses different parts of the tree as metaphors to represent aspects of our lives. For example, the roots are your background, where you have come from. The trunk are your strengths and abilities and the branches are you hopes, dreams and wishes. Through these metaphors we are allowed to construct and tell true stories about our life that focus on our skills, abilities, hopes and dreams.
Together we hoped that the Tree of Life would be an effective addition to Lively Minds self-esteem and well-being programmes. So over six days the team and I engaged in intensive Tree of Life training. We started by completing the exercise ourselves, drawing out our trees, telling our skills an abilities focused-stories, sharing how we’ve over come adversity. Having been active participants, we then practiced modifying the intervention to fit the needs of the women in the villages. We had the fortune of pens and paper to draw our trees, literacy to write words to describe the parts of our tree and the luxury of time to elaborate on our trees. None of these are readily available in the villages. However,with the invaluable input from the Lively Minds team we put together a programme that is ready to be taken to the field.
Although we didn’t have time to trial the Tree of Life in the villages, I am leaving its implementation in the competent hands of the wonderful Joshua, Sarah, Grace, Ronald, Cliff, Salma & Josephine.