‘The Palgrave Handbook of Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health’ – Our Hands On Our Calabash

Book Cover - High Resolution

It was an honour to collaborate with Sumeet Jain, Ursula Read and David Orr in editing ‘The Palgrave Handbook of Socio-cultural Perspective on Global Mental Health’: http://link.springer.com/book/10.1057%2F978-1-137-39510-8

The handbook was 3 years in the making – from initial conception to final publication in February of 2017. It was a great privilege to work with the many contributors who graciously give their time and effort to writing chapters for the book.

In thinking about the cover image that we would use for the book I consulted with my friend Gameli Tordzro. Gameli is a talented versatile multiple arts practitioner and researcher. He has worked as Artistic Director of Pan African Arts Scotland since 2006 and is the founder and composer for Ha Orchestra (The first symphonic African Orchestra in Scotland). Well known on Ghana TV as a traditional African musician and storyteller, Film, TV/Theatre director/producer and actor, his passion for music has led him to develop special skills in playing a range of traditional African musical instruments including the Kora, Seprewa, the gyle xylpohone, a range of African drums, the Atenteben Flute (a Ghanaian Bamboo flute) and the Tre. Gameli is the 2015 winner of Critics Award for Theatre in Scotland for music through his work in Kai Fischer’s 2015 production of Last Dream (on Earth). He is the current Musician in Residence of University of Glasgow GRAMNet as well as a creative arts PhD researcher at the School of Education, University of Glasgow.

Gameli was excited about the focus of the handbook and the themes that it explores, which resonate strongly with his interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and intercultural communication. Fortunately for us, he was keen to contribute an image for the handbook which I have attached to this post. The image is entitled ‘Our Hands On Our Calabash’. Below you can read the narrative that Gameli wrote to accompany the image which reflects on his roots in Ghana and the practical and symbolic importance of the Calabash and its metaphorical relevance to Global Mental Health.

Our Hands On Our Calabash (My Calabash Story)

By Gameli Tordzro

The simple calabash gourd (or hollowed-out and dried fruit of the Lagenaria siceraria vine) represents so many things for me in my life. It provides a metaphor for life – a metaphor for my very existence. The calabash carries both material and spiritual significance for me and holds a special space in both my domestic and vocational duties. Lately it has become an object that I can use to symbolically represent acts of friendship, offering and sharing. Its form as a super light, strong (but at the same time fragile) shell draws comparisons with our spherical earth and the shape of a woman’s pregnancy at different stages. The calabash has endless uses as a container for liquids and solids; a musical instrument or components of musical instruments; furniture; fashion items; various forms of handicraft, as wall as hangings that can be adorned with various colours and designs.

My association with the calabash started as a child. It was a very important part of the preparation of food. The calabash, or ‘Trè’ as it is called in my native Ewegbe, was used to serve dzogbor (the maize meal porridge that was served for breakfast) that was a staple food for us growing up. The Trè was also used by mothers living in Keta (our hometown) to shape ‘akplé’ – the solid version of maize meal that the Ewe people eat wherever they might be: Ghana, Togo, Benin and the various other places where Ewes have migrated to. The Trè can also be used to serve water, palmwine, traditional beer like pito, and can be used to hold almost anything – the ubiquitous bowl for serving anything and everything. The Trè is also an important object for rites and rituals of passage – it is used to hold ‘Dzatsi’ a mixture of cornflour and rainwater that is used for ritual libation. The calabash therefore carries very important social value, and has considerable emotional significance.

Since moving from to Accra Ghana to Glasgow Scotland, I had become distanced and detached from the calabash and its value, until recent events jolted awake slumbering memories of my childhood. During a recent trip to Ghana, I was looking though some cooking utensils that belonged to my late mother, Vera Tamakloe, when I found the Trè that she used to prepare and serve ‘Aliha’ – a special maize drink. Memories swept of how my mother, ‘Dada’ (as her children and eventually everyone else called her), used to prepare and sell the Aliha locally. To this day in traditional markets in Ghana, women carry and sell Aliha in large Très. It transpired that the Trè I had stumbled upon was also the last one that my mother had used before she fell ill and passed on. I knew immediately the moment that I set my eyes on this calabash that I wanted to keep it for the priceless sentimental worth that it holds.

Dada’s Calabash in Glasgow

I picked up Dada’s Calabash and cleaned it nicely. The precise way in which I could use this object to honour my mother only became apparent when I started stroking it and tapping it. I had not realised all these years how a great percussive instrument Dada’s calabash was. The sound that came out of the calabash as I tapped on it sent waves of excitement through me, and before long I was creating new rhythms on it. In a matter of a few days, I was performing with the calabash in a show in Accra with my friend Dela Botri (Ghana’s Atenteben flute maestro) and his band Hewale Sounds.

When I returned to Glasgow, I was sure to bring Dada’s Trè with me. Its significance goes beyond the music I create with it today. It represents life; how I negotiate all the complexities of living as a migrant, and the range of emotions that I deal with. I channel and share the experience of those emotions through my music when I play the calabash. Thus today, my hands are on the calabash – the Trè of our mother Dada – and it helps me to negotiate the emotions of grief, joy, anger, sadness, anxiety, and love. The calabash, this calabash, gives me a much treasured opportunity to extend the memory of the woman who brought me forth, who raised me to see the fullness of the opportunities that the world can provide, and helped me to consider everyone who I meet to be family.

I have had the pleasure of sharing the calabash with young migrants from different cultural backgrounds who are attending a college programme in Glasgow. I also shares special friendship through the calabash with three special friends; my wife Naa Densua, Alison Phipps and Tawona Sithole (The Calabash People). This process of sharing the calabash and the music that it can produce, captures the way in which we can work together to collaboratively enrich each other’s experiences of the world. People are all connected in ways that are not always obvious, ways that can be discovered as we continue learning to respect, appreciate and celebrate diversity and complexity – but can also be discovered by recognising that despite our differences the earth, our shared ‘Trè’, sustains us all.

When my friend and colleague Ross White approached me to discuss ideas for the cover of ‘The Palgrave Handbook of Socio-cultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health’, the image of many hands on my Trè was the first to pop in my imagination and prompted me to reflect on the simple calabash, and the symbolic significance this has for the giving and receiving of care, and maintenance of connections I have established with people around the world in different countries. After all, we all exist on one big calabash, and we can put our hands on this calabash and feel responsible and connected to each other – key ingredients for Global Mental Health.


The Language That You Cry In: Life Falling Heavily in Sierra Leone

On the 13th February 2016 I made the trip from Glasgow to Freetown via Paris. This trip saw me join colleagues from the NGO ‘commit and act’ to help progress the work that the organization is doing in Sierra Leone to empower local people to build more promising futures. This was my third visit to Sierra Leone, but was the first time that I had made the journey since 2013. A lot has happened in the country in the meantime. The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease that began in the country in May 2014 resulted in the deaths of 4000 citizens of Sierra Leone (with nearly 14,000 cases of infection being reported in the country), and has had a profound effect on the lives of people living there as well as the country’s economy.


‘commit and act’ was started in 2010 by a Clinical Psychologist from Germany called Beate Ebert. In the intervening years it has grown in size with team members from the UK, Ireland, Germany and the US bolstering the organization’s capacities. I met with two other team members (Jennifer Nardozzi from the US and Saskia Schmidt from Germany) at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris before making the onward trip to Freetown. We would be meeting up with other ‘commit and act’ representatives including Beate, Tien Mandell (from the UK), Ruben Rozental (from the US) and Brunhilda (from Germany) who had been in the country since 6th February 2016.


We arrived into Freetown airport at 7.30pm into the hot embrace of the evening. In the wake of the EVD outbreak, it was evident that a range of procedures where still in place to reduce the potential risk of disease transition – hand sanitizers positioned at the passport inspection posts, posters about the signs and symptoms of the disease etc. There had been a flare up of two new cases of the disease identified 2 weeks prior to our arrival in the country and the authorities were alert to the risk of a fresh outbreak.


Upon leaving Freetown airport, new arrivals are thrust into the hustle and bustle of the enterprise opportunities that international travellers bring. Stewards vie for your attention, so that they might process your transportation from Lungi (the peninsula on which the airport is located) to Freetown, which is located on the opposite side of the bay. It is important to know in advance how much you are expected to pay for the 30 min boat journey across the bay (currently $40US) to avoid paying excessive amounts to the stewards. A bus is provided to take you the short drive from the airport terminal to the small ferry terminal. On arriving at the ferry terminal I got talking to some people who had travelled over from the US to do mental health related work in Sierra Leone. The group included Dr Mandy Garber (a Psychiatrist who was born in Sierra Leone but who has spent many years in Pittsburgh, US. It was great to learn more about the work that Mandy and her colleagues are engaged in and to see if there were opportunities for collaborating. Mandy is keen to conduct a scoping exercise to identify and connect all organizations engaged in mental health related work in Sierra Leone.


We were met at Aberdeen Bridge ferry terminal in Freetown by Hannah Bockarie (the Director of the ‘commit and act ‘ center in Bo, Sierra Leone). It was great to see Hannah’s smiling and welcoming face. It was the first time that I had seen her since July of 2015 when we attended the Association of Contextual Behavioural Science World Conference in Berlin, Germany. Hannah had arranged transport for to the compound of Fr Peter Conteh, which is located in the Kingtom area of Freetown. Fr Conteh had kindly agreed to provide accommodation for us in Freetown before we made the 3 hr road trip to Bo the next day. I had stayed with Fr Conteh on each of my two previous 2 visits to the country in 2012 and 2013, and it was great to see if again. He is a senior figure in Caritas in the country. After a comfortable night’s sleep, Saskia, Jennifer, Hannah and myself attended a mass being given by Fr Conteh in the nearby St Edward’s Church. There were over 200 members of the congregation present. It was the first Sunday of lent and also Valentine’s Day, and both of these special occasions were referred to by Fr Conteh. It was a lovely surprise to be greeted warmly by members of the congregation who had been recipients of training in psychosocial interventions that I had co-facilitated in both 2012 and 2013. Church services in Sierra Leone tend to be vibrant and colourful occasions. As the congregation sang hymns, they were accompanied by a drummer beating out the rhythm. There was swaying and dancing to accompany this rhythm.


After the completion of the church service we were driven in a transport kindly provided by Fr Conteh to Bo where we would meet with the other team members in the ‘commit and act’ centre. Although the economy in the country has struggled as a result of the EVD outbreak, it was pleasing to see that there had been some improvements made to the road surfaces between Freetown and Bo. Although not without its fair share of potholes and dusty surfaces, it was clear that projects (led largely by Chinese investment and construction companies) had helped to extend sections of new roads. The road trip served to re-emphasize the lack of resources available to the vast majority of the Sierra Leonian people – people living in small dwellings close to the roadside with basic amenities and limited, if any, access to a power supply;small shacks selling provisions; live chickens gathered together for selling to customers; people walking along the road carrying considerable loads on their heads; old vehicles stripped down – their parts cannonbalized by enterprising mechanics offering repairs to other vehicles; babies wrapped tightly against their mother’s backs; unfinished buildings stand like looming question marks as to whether sufficient funds can be secured to allow the work to be finished….


We arrived to a warm welcome from our colleagues at the ‘commit and act’ offices. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to visit, and it was a proud moment to see how the organization has grown over the last 5 years. It is fantastic to have access to such a great office space in what is Sierra Leone’s second largest city. There are 5 members of staff employed at the office – including Hannah, Fatmata Gbendeva and Edmond Barndon who take on the bulk of the responsibilities relating to the day-to-day running of the organization’s activities in Sierra Leone. ‘commit and act’ has received money from a German NGO calls Kinder Missio to fund the organization to create a shelter for girls and young women who are survivors of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse. The shelter provides support to these individuals by temporally accommodating them, providing for their basic needs and liaising with other agencies such as the police and courts to bring about charges and potential convictions against the perpetrators of the abuse. At the time of our visit there were 10 girls being accommodated – along with 4 children of these women; the youngest of which was only 3 weeks old. ‘commit and act’ seek to liaise with the families of the girls to explore options for protecting their longer term safety and security. The organization takes referrals from agencies such as the police, but also has the facility to accept self-referrals. It was disturbing to learn more about the girls’ experiences and the challenges that they face. A key focus of ‘commit and act’ is to address social determinants of mental wellbeing and to reduce sources of social injustice that threaten mental wellbeing.



Our visit to Sierra Leone had a range of aims and objectives that were specific to different work-streams that have previously been established relating to: finance, research and evaluation, grant applications, social enterprise opportunities and human resources. There were various meetings organized through the week that allowed time for team members to discuss these issues. I serve as the Deputy Chair Person of the organization but I am also involved in both the research and social enterprise workstreams.


Beate and Tien had facilitated two training workshops during the week before our arrival in Makeni and Bo that focused on psychosocial interventions for non-specialist workers e.g. local NGO workers. In advance of these work-shops we had made arrangements for the completion of pre- and post-workshop measures to evaluate the impact of the training we offer. So, I allocated time to do a training session with the local ‘commit and act’ team reflecting on the need for evaluation and exploring research governance issues such as consent, confidentiality, data storage, data analysis, and interpretation. I also instructed a volunteer assistant in data-entry techniques so that he could assist with entering the data that we gathered from the workshops into an excel data file that had been created prior to the visit to SL. This will hopefully help with the publication of further research papers in the future to complement the recent paper that we published in Journal of Contetxual Behavioural Science (see http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212144716300011). The members of the ‘commit and act’ team were sad not to have Corinna Stewart with us on this trip. Corinna has played a pivotal role in the research work-stream and also provided an important contribution in the preparations for the trip. Alas, PhD commitments mean that she was not able to come this time around. I also spent time entering data into another data file that relates to work that ‘commit and act’ did during the EVD outbreak using a ‘PROSOCIAL’ community-based approach to help limit the transmission of the disease. This work sought to assess levels of distress, educate communities about EVD, and bring about behaviour change aimed at reducing transmission. In recognition of the important work that ‘commit and act’ has been doing in Sierra Leone, we were granted a meeting with the Vice President of Sierra Leone – His Excellency Victor Bockarie Foh. The discussions with the Vice President were constructive and we were honoured that he took time from his busy schedule to meet with us for 1 hour to learn more about our work.


We visited Kalia a village about 30 minutes drive away from Bo. Here 38 people died during the EVD outbreak in September 2014, leaving 94 orphans in the village. Saskia’s charity ‘One Day’ (http://oneday-ev.de) have been working to set up sponsoring arrangements from the orphaned children in conjunction with the support of individuals in Germany which is aimed at providing monthly funds to support the basic needs of the children (including sustenance, health care needs and school uniforms). This was the first time that Saskia met with the children in person. She brought letters and photographs from the families of the people in Germany providing the sponsoring support. We were given a very warm welcome; the children had prepared individualized welcome placards with our names on them. There was singing, dancing and lots of handshakes. This is in stark contrast to the 42 days that the village was quarantined for during the EVD outbreak, when contact between the villagers and those from outside was forbidden and the movement of the villagers was highly restricted. This meant that the villagers were unable to tend their land and the crops failed. So, in addition to the devastating loss of life, the economic functioning of the village was markedly affected.


The welcoming ceremony happened just in front of a new school building that has been built by funds raised by One Day, and close to an older building that was used to house the bodies of those that fell with EVD. All of the children from the village were in attendance along with various dignitaries from the local community including the deputy to the local Paramount Chief for the area. A variety of different languages were represented by people attending the event including: English, German and languages specific to Sierra Leone. Hannah chaired the proceedings and addressed the assembled members of the community in the Krio language – derived from English but incorporating up to a dozen local languages including local tribal languages in Sierra Leone such as Mende and Temne. Hannah was able to instantly capture the assembled children’s attention by saying ‘Hel-lllo’, to which the children instantly responded in unison with a ‘Hhhiiiiii’. Examples of spoken Krio can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JycdrjPTJSQ. Hannah, and other people living in Bo and nearby villages (such as Kalia), is a native Mende speaker. The Mende language features heavily in the 1998 documentary called ‘The Language You Cry In’ – the story of the efforts of linguists, anthropologists and enthomusicologists to trace the origins of a song sung by Amelia Dawley (a member of the Gullah people of Georgia in the US) to an academic linguist named Lorenzo Turner in the 1930s. The documentary relating to the ‘homecoming’ of this song back to Mende speaking people in Sierra Leone can be viewed here: http://www.folkstreams.net/film,270 It is a fascinating story of the persistence of language and cultural practice across time and geography. The documentary also highlights how groups of Mende speaking men in Sierra Leone were organized into local militias (called Kamajors) to fight rebels during the civil war that took place in the country from 1991 to 2002. The following Mende proverb that is quoted in the documentary is particularly relevant to work that I am contributing to the ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State’ research project (http://researching-multilingually-at-borders.com):


‘You can speak another language, you can live in another culture, but to cry over the dead, you always go back to your mother tongue, the language you cry in’. – Mende Proverb, Sierra Leone


The trip to Sierra Leone provided us with the opportunity to discuss plans for directly addressing economic hardship and inequality in communities in the Bo district through ‘social enterprise’ opportunities. Jennifer, Fatmata and myself are working with colleagues at the University of Glasgow to develop sustainable business ideas that will provide income generation, facilitate disadvantaged people to learn new skills and help to support ‘commit and acts’ efforts in Sierra Leone to empower people to build promising futures. Working with local women’s groups that ‘commit and act’ has set up in local communities seems like a good place to start with these plans. Jennifer and Beate first established these groups in 2012, and in the intervening period Edmond has helped to introduce a saving scheme system that facilitates opportunities for members to get access to micro-loans. This has been instrumental in helping local women to generate income. One evening we visited a local women’s group and heard testimonies from the women about the benefits that being involved in the group can bring.


A lot of water has passed under the bridge since my last visit to the country. Whilst there are some signs of progress in terms of improvements in the road network, it is clear that the country and its people are continuing to struggle in the aftermath of the EVD outbreak. In addition, there have been a number of personal crises that have affected ‘commit and act’ staff in recent times. As a team, we took the time to reflect on these circumstances and to think about how we can best support each other during challenging times. In previous blog entries relating to my visit to Sierra Leone in 2013, I discussed the harsh realities of life in resource-scare settings. In particular, a lack of adequately trained medical specialists and/or appropriate treatments in Sierra Leone means that people can endure considerable suffering in ways that could be avoided in high-income countries. In this way, life can fall heavily for the people of Sierra Leone. In light of the challenges that people in the country are experiencing, please do consider making a donation to support the work that ‘commit and act’ is doing in Sierra Leone and empower people to have more promising futures: http://commitandact.com


It was an emotional and enriching return to Sierra Leone. Old friendships were renewed and new friendships were begun. Important and powerful stories were shared, whilst at other times silence spoke louder than any words ever could – people left bereft of a voice when words simply failed to capture the gravity of the pain that people had experienced….


Being together again with other ‘commit and act’ team members only served to increase the respect and admiration that I have for a group of people that I feel blessed to know. We are looking forward to the next chapter – there is much work to be done.











Language and Local Challenges to Global Mental Health

On Thursday 10th September 2015, Dr Richard Fay (http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/richard.fay/) and I travelled to the University of Sussex for a conference organised by the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA). The title of the conference was: ‘MAGic2015: Anthropology and Global Health: interrogating theory, policy and practice’. We had a paper accepted to a panel that was focusing on ‘Mental health and anthropology: local challenges to Global Mental Health’ (http://www.nomadit.co.uk/easa/magic2015/panels.php5?PanelID=3617). For the unacquainted, Global Mental Health (GMH) has been defined as an area of practice and research concerned with reducing inequities and inequalities in the provision of mental health services across the globe.

The paper that Richard and I jointly presented was entitled: ‘Global Mental Health: The importance of contextual sensitivity and appropriate methodologies’ (see: https://www.dropbox.com/s/zpysr5rxhn0y6tp/MAGic%20Conference%20Presentation%20-%20White%20%26%20Fay%20-%20September%202015.pdf?dl=0).

This paper reflected on fieldwork we conducted in Uganda in April 2015 as part of Case Study 1 of the ‘Researching Multingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State’ research project (http://researching-multilingually-at-borders.com/). This fieldwork was intended to contribute to the development of culturally appropriate psychosocial interventions for Lango-speaking people in the Lira Region of Northern Uganda. The Langi people, along with Acholi and Alur, are members of the Western Nilotic language group, and combined these ethnic groups constitute the bulk of the population living in Northern Uganda. Together they comprise about 15% of the overall population of Uganda (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/NEH/u-ethn.html)

The fieldwork involved the completion of Module 1 of a rapid qualitative assessment called Design Implementation Methodology and Evaluation (DIME) that was used to explore the types of problems that people living in the Lira region experience and the types of tasks that they are frequently required to complete for themselves, for their families and their communities. The fieldwork was completed in conjunction with a local Lango speaking research team that included 12 research assistants (who conducted interviews with local stakeholders) and 2 research supervisors who helped coordinate the research activities.

Our conference paper focused on a particular priority problem reported by the participants living in the Lira region. The Lango language description of this problem was ‘peko me tam’ which literally translates as ‘problems with thoughts’. At the end of the research process, this was translated as ‘anxiety and stress’ by the research team (and verified by a Lango language expert). The ramifications of this act of translation are potentially profound. Over 40 different languages are spoken in Uganda. There has been a tendency to translate local language understanding about distress into English (as a step to providing local people with access to pre-existing, or new developed, forms of treatment often offered by international NGOs). The textbooks used to train mental health professionals in Uganda are also published in English and tend to come from the US or UK. As such, English language descriptions of forms of psychopathology predominate in the training of professional. This has created a context where the global and the local dynamically interact. In the case of peko me tam, it is possible that locally trained professionals and international NGOs could use protocols with Lango-speakers that have been developed to address anxiety and/or stress (concepts which are themselves distinct in the English language and could lead to quite different forms of intervention). The other modules of the DIME approach aim to develop local language assessment measurements and forms of intervention which are more sensitive to local language descriptions of distress.

The paper included some critical reflections on the DIME methodology (developed at John Hopkins University) and some of the challenges that arise when working with the pragmatics of how different languages (Lango, English, Acoli and Swahili) can be strategically employed in day-to-day life in Lira. It is important to understand that the DIME approach was developed to assist in the rapid development of psychosocial interventions in humanitarian crises, and it is not intended as a substitute for detailed ethnographic work. The DIME manual is printed in English, and the training for the local Research Assistants and supervisors was delivered in English. On the otherhand, all interviews were conducted in Lango, and the data was recorded in Lango. No audio recording device was used, with the scribes being expected to record verbatim summary statements spoken by the participants. In stark contrast to the linguistic realities on the ground, the DIME manual specifically states that the research should be conducted in one language only.

A key aspect of our paper was that it problematized the sharp dichotomy that is often drawn between ‘Global’ and ‘Local’ perspectives. Universalist approaches to addressing mental health difficulties across the globe (which advocate a ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing mental health difficulties) has been critiqued for discounting the potential impact that the diverse beliefs and practices of people living in different cultural contexts have on people’s experience of distress. Such critiques have suggested that scaling-up ‘evidence-based’ biomedical interventions largely developed in the West may serve to undermine or extinguish local forms of support. Conversely, Preservationist arguments that adopt a dioramic and essentialised approach to ‘culture’ can be critiqued on the basis that syncretization (the process by which differing beliefs and practices become integrated) occurs between and within cultures. As such the ‘local’ is situated within the global and the global permeates the local. The paper argues that GMH as an endeavour should not be constrained by either the Universalist or Preservationist approaches, but should instead promote the need for globally-minded practitioners who adopt context-sensitive perspectives in pursuit of appropriate methodologies for GMH. The importance of conducting interdisciplinary research into the languaging of distress will be a very important aspect of this work.

It was an enriching experience to discuss themes that emerged from the paper with the other contributors to the panel and the audience who attended the panel session. I also very much valued the opportunity to catch up with Richard and to benefit from the perspectives that the Researching Multilingually and Translating Cultures (RMTC) Hub (http://researching-multilingually-at-borders.com/?page_id=177) have brought to this work.

Global Perspectives on Mental Wellbeing – Summer-School in Kigali, Rwanda June 2015

Between the 15th – 19th June 2015, the Institute of Health and Wellbeing (IHW) of the University of Glasgow in conjunction with the College of Medicine and Health Sciences (CMHS) of the University of Rwanda jointly organised a 5-day summer-school in Kigali, Rwanda that focused on the topic of ‘Global Perspectives on Mental Wellbeing’. The summer-school aimed to provide a platform for attendees to exchange knowledge about the development and delivery of contextually sensitive approaches for promoting mental wellbeing. In addition, the summer school also facilitated opportunities to: 1) Build international research collaborations; 2) Advertise the MSc Global Mental Health programme to prospective international students. I was involved in organising the summer-school along with my colleagues from the University of Rwanda – Dr Stefan Jansen and Dr Darius Gishoma.

The event was open to professionals (including clinicians and researchers) and students with an interest in mental health related issues. There were over 100 registered attendees from across the world – including 9 individuals from countries outside Africa (including Australia, Canada, United States, Canada, Sweden, Dubai, and UK), 23 regional African attendees (from Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania), and a large number of local people from Rwanda. Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga (National Director of Mental Health, Ministry of Health, Rwanda) and Prof Phil Cotton (Principal of College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda) were guests of honour at the summer school.

The event featured contributions from presenters from Rwanda, Uganda, UK, Croatia, Holland and Belgium. Sessions delivered during the summer-school  focused on a variety of topics and themes including: current debates in Global Mental Health; social determinants of mental health; the Recovery Approach; a workshop on psychosocial interventions; overcoming hurdles to promoting mental health and well-being; promoting human rights and social inclusion; mental health in emergency situations, and expert panel discussions.

The feedback from attendees was very positive. There were rich opportunities for networking and building collaborations. It is hoped that this summer school will be an annual event hosted in one of the Great Lakes Region of East Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania). These plans are part of a growing collaboration between University of Glasgow, University of Rwanda and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

The organisation of the summer-school is in keeping with the innovative work that the University of Glasgow has been undertaking in the area of Global Mental Health. In September 2012, the University of Glasgow launched the first MSc Global Mental Health programme in the UK that educates students about how to design and deliver culturally appropriate services for addressing inequalities and inequities in mental health provision across the globe. Twitter users may wish to access further information about the summer school via #GMWrwanda.

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed visiting Kigali again and spending time with so many interesting people. My thanks to Stefan Jansen, and his wife Alice, for hosting me at their home during my visit. I was made to feel very welcome.

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Photographs from the trip

The lake-shore in Butiaba

The lake-shore in Butiaba

Port Margaret in Butiaba, Lake Albert - Maribou Storks patrol the fishing nets.

Port Margaret in Butiaba, Lake Albert – Maribou Storks patrol the fishing nets.

Some of the fabrics

Some of the fabrics

Katja and Joan visiting the tailors to get clothes made

Katja and Joan visiting the tailors to get clothes made


The class stand for the national anthem - Richard plays the tune on his whistle

The class stand for the national anthem – Richard plays the tune on his whistle

Going back to school at Fatima Secondary School, Olio

Going back to school at Fatima Secondary School, Alio

White ants drying in the sun in Olio

White ants drying in the sun in Alio

Bonding as a team

Bonding as a team

The rain is never far away in April

The rain is never far away in April

Resting after a walk at Brownstone House Hotel

Resting after a walk at Brownstone House Hotel


Richard and Daniel duetting on the tin whistle

Richard and Daniel duetting on the tin whistle

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A tuneful Fr. Ponsiano

A tuneful Fr. Ponsiano

Dr Rosco Kasujja

Dr Rosco Kasujja

Some of the gang

Some of the gang

Some down-time for the team

Some down-time for the team

Lira's bustling main street

Lira’s bustling main street

Our base for the 2 weeks - The Pauline Hotel

Our base for the 2 weeks – The Pauline Hotel

Sunday 12th April – Relaxing in Kampala and contemplating our return to the UK

We arrived in Kampala at 6pm on Saturday evening. We checked in once again at the Makerere University Guest House where we had stayed on our first night in Uganda 2-weeks ago. The familiarity of the guesthouse helped to reinforce the extent to which we are slowly, but surely, starting to get to know both Kampala and Uganda. The guesthouse was certainly a lot busier than it had been during our previous stay. There is a party of over 30 secondary school students from Norway who are visiting Uganda to participate in an annual dancing event where students get an opportunity to learn and perform dances that are characteristic of different ethnic groups living in Uganda.

Rosco left us for the evening to return to his home and settle back into life in Kampala. Although Rosco has been to Lira many times before, this was his longest continuous stay there, so I am sure that he was appreciative of the opportunity for some down time. After a brief rest, Katja, Richard and myself met for dinner. There were moments of concern when we realized that the video-camera had been left in the transport that we had been using that day – particularly in light of the fact that there had not yet been an opportunity to save the video-interviews that Katja had shot with members of the research team from the previous day. We immediately contacted Rosco who in turn contacted Julius (our driver). Within an hour the camera had been located and returned to us by Julius. We were greatly relieved, and very appreciative that Julius had managed to return it to us so quickly (even in spite of the traffic jams that clog the arterial road networks in Kampala).

It would be fair to say that we were all exhausted after the travel today and we agreed to turn in for an early night. I did some writing for the blog and then made my way to bed. I was woken by the evocative sound of the early morning prayer call from the nearby mosque. I spent some time drifting in and out of sleep but was aware of some pronounced busyness in my thinking. There is a lot to process about what has happened, and the work that has been conducted, in the previous two weeks. So many personal exchanges and stories shared. So many different languages shared and attempted (Lango, Acholi, Luganda, English, German, Polish and Romanian to name but a few). So many visual images developing like photographs in the darkroom of my mind. So many hands shaken and smiles exchanged…. In Uganda, as with other parts of the world, physical contact during greetings is important. Handshakes tend to be more elaborate than those exchanged in countries such as the UK; a variety of hand-positions can be sequenced together, and the length of time that the handshake lasts tends to be longer. Ugandan people will often grasp their right forearm with their left hand whilst completing the handshake.

I was aware that Richard had arranged to meet with a Ugandan student who is living in Kampala and completing her PhD through the University of Manchester. Bona’s research is focusing on the role that technology can play in the education of children in Uganda. Relative to its neighbours in the Great Lakes Region (Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania), the proportion of people completing secondary school education is comparatively low (i.e. 33% in Uganda compared to 84% in Rwanda). Together we shared some thoughts on how this issue could be addressed. It was a very interesting and enlightening conversation.

Rosco joined us at 1pm and we made our way to a nearby cultural centre where local crafts are sold. After picking up some souvenirs, Rosco took us to a restaurant called The Lawns. It is located in the consular section of the city that tends to be popular with expatriates. It was a decadent end to our trip. We really enjoyed the food and it provided another opportunity to unwind that little bit more. However we were acutely aware of the stark contrast between the comparative affluence of this area of Kampala and the deprivation experienced by many Ugandans. On returning to the guesthouse we had some time to kill before heading off to Entebbe airport. The Man Utd v Man City game was being shown live on the television, but my mind was not on the game.

We left the guesthouse at 7.45pm, Rosco had arranged the transportation to the airport and he accompanied us on the journey. The drive out to Entebbe took over an hour. The initial phase of the drive took us through the busy streets of Kampala. The electricity was down in many parts of the city. Candles and paraffin lamps instead illuminated the sides of the roads where vendors were selling all manner of foods and merchandise from their stalls. We navigated our way across busy roads crammed with bicycles, cars, taxi buses and motorbikes. The traffic in Kampala can feel a bit chaotic at the best of times, but people seem to find a way of negotiating their way through. My mind drifted back to the night of our arrival in Uganda and the journey we made in the opposite direction. I remembered how I had envisioned how our departure from Uganda would feel after the two week stay had been completed. I think it is fair to say that it the deep sense of accomplishment that I felt driving out to the airport far exceeded anything that I could ever have anticipated on our arrival.

As we approached Entebbe we received two welcomed phone calls on Rosco’s phone – one from Dennis (a member of the research team), and then one from Fr Ponsiano. Both wished us well on our travels and again thanked us for coming to Uganda. It was kind of them both to call, and we enjoyed having the chance to chat. And then… it was time to say ‘see you later’ to Rosco in the form of a group hug. As a group Richard, Katja, Rosco and myself have complemented each other really well and we have had good fun along the way. Rosco is due in the UK in May, so we hope to meet up with him then. The flight from Entebbe back to Amsterdam takes 8 hours and is due to leave at 11.30pm. I will get a connecting flight on to Glasgow, and Richard will fly to Manchester. Katja however is flying on to Atlanta and then Tucson in the US to present at a conference over there. That’s an incredible journey to fit in a limited period of time. It won’t be until the 20th April that she finally returns to Glasgow.

The plan for the next few days is to settle back into life in Glasgow, work through some of the research administration tasks and save and catalogue some of the data/media that we collected in Uganda. I will try to get some photographs up onto the blog.

11th April – A road trip to the shores of Lake Albert

It was an early start this morning. We were on the road at 5.00am to head West towards the shores of Lake Albert. The road surfaces were rough and uneven. The journey would take 7 hours; 7 bone-rattling hours. The drive took us through rain-forest tracks and up into the elevated land of the East Africa escarpment that sits over the rift valley. We passed by baboons sitting by the roadside, keeping guard over their youngsters. Our journey culminated in arrival in the town of Butiaba on the North East shore of Lake Albert. This area had been explored  by Sir Samuel White Baker in the mid to late 19th century. Baker, who was as a personal friend of Edward VII, eventually became governor of the area that is now Southern Sudan and Nothern Uganda but at that time was referred to as the province of ‘Equatoria’.

Butiaba is to many extents trading on its past glories as a fishing village. Unfortunately, the fishing stocks in Lake Albert have fallen dramatically in recent years, and the town is struggling to adjust. In spite of the economic hardships that this has for the population living there, the huge Maribou Storks patrolling the drying fishing nets that line the shore in the stifling heat do not seem too concerned. Walking among the storks, we took time to look out towards the far shore of Lake Albert where Uganda ends and the Democratic Republic of Congo begins.

After spending some time chatting with some of the local people, we travelled back West to stop off at the town of Masindi where we had lunch at the Masindi Hotel. There was relatively little conversation over lunch – mainly because people were too busy connecting with the WIFI that the hotel offered – a scarce resource in these parts. The food was good. Katja opted for the local fish called Talapia. It is popular all over Uganda and is served whole – the eyes are a particular delicacy (Rosco very much enjoys the eyes…). Following lunch it was back into the Super Custom for the 4-hour trip to Kampala.

The road journey south served as a microcosm for our road-trips in Uganda; enormous termite hills frequently dotted across the landscapes; unfeasibly large loads on the back of motorcycles; babies tied snugly to their mothers back as they walk along the roadside; long-horned cattle chewing grass; signs advertising various nearby ministries and churches; bananas, jack fruits, and cassava sitting for sale on roadside stalls; clusters of small circular huts with thatched roofs where the people working the land live; the single story simple buildings that serve as shops (some emblazoned with paint work representing the products that they sell e.g. mobile phone top-ups for companies such as MTN, Airtel and Africel); palm trees, hand-ploughed fields and sugar canes. A myrid of people, shapes, colours and livelihoods.