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Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman

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The Victims Of Atrocities: Kony 2012 And Beyond

Posted: 03/14/2012 3:08 pm

We've been following the expanding discussion in print and media since the viral introduction of Invisible Children's Kony 2012 film. And we applaud their efforts to get the word out about Joseph Kony, who continues to terrorize the people of central Africa, whether in South Sudan, Congo or Northern Uganda.

Because even though Kony and the LRA pulled out of Northern Uganda, the effects of Kony's occupation -- of over twenty years of forced brutality, murder, destruction, rape and the kidnapping of tens of thousands of children to serve in his army -- lingers in the psyches of his victims. We Americans know about traumatic depression and PTSD from our returning soldiers, and the survivors of the attacks of 9/11. We know that without treatment, victims can suffer a lifetime of nightmares, depression, and emotional and physical pain and paralysis.

During Kony's occupation, thousands of young men, women and children were abducted and forced to join rebel groups. Others were displaced from their communities, preventing them from engaging in productive work. Many civilians were forced into IDP camps and, with little to occupy their time, turned to alcohol abuse. Women and girls were exposed to high rates of sexual violence. While a smaller proportion of men were raped, they suffer profound psychological and medical consequences. Thirty-thousand children were abducted; many were forced by their captors to commit atrocities against their families, relatives and friends.

In Northern Uganda, this translates to literally thousands of men, women and children whose personal, direct experience of unspeakable atrocity have left them with psychological wounds making them unable to function, to farm their land, care for their children and families, or go to school or work. Years of uninterrupted war resulted in exposure to violence, displacement, collapse of economic and social structures, and breakdown of the healthcare delivery system.

Since 2005, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation has been training indigenous mental health workers and running clinics in Northern Uganda to treat traumatic depression and PTSD: what our Ugandan colleagues call "psychotrauma." Our four clinics in Gulu, Kitgum, Soroti and Arua, staffed by teams of psychiatric clinical officers, psychiatric nurses, counselors and social workers, are on the front lines every day, working with Kony's victims, providing individual and group therapy, medication and psychosocial support. We reach out to community health centers and IDP camps to reach patients where they live, and teach patients and their communities that it is normal to sustain physical and emotional consequences of their experiences, that this is a shared consequence and that help is available.

In 2011, PCAF's four clinics in Northern Uganda saw nearly two thousand patients. Over 75 percent of our patients are women and children; over 60 percent of those children are orphaned. Over 56 percent of our patients have witnessed the torture or killing of friends and relatives, and over 59 percent lost a family member to violence. Most importantly, over 80 percent of these patients saw improvement in function and reduction in symptom load. PCAF is making a difference on the ground in Uganda every single day and through enhanced community outreach efforts, we are reaching greater numbers of Kony's victims than we ever thought possible.

We know a little about surviving atrocities, and what it takes for survivors to work back to function. Peter Alderman was himself a victim of terrorism, killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. We created the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, a 501(c)(3) operating foundation to help survivors of terrorism and mass violence in post-conflict countries where there is no help available. Our clinics in Cambodia, Liberia and Uganda treat thousands of victims annually, and our annual conferences are creating a network of indigenous mental health professionals who are sharing best practices on treating survivors.

We all must do our best to support any and all efforts to stop Kony and all misguided zealots and tyrants from terrorizing the innocent. But as long as humans continue to destroy each other, there must be support for survivors.

Watch the story of a boy who is one of the millions of victims of global terrorism and mass violence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=by3L3ZdasiQ