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Empowering Refugees with Protection Counselor Mildred

By Brenda Semerenko | Communications and Development Intern

Among YARID's key activities, the organization's goals are to unite Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) through avenues such as English classes and vocational skills training in order to address social issues like ethnic conflicts, unemployment, public health, and lack of access to education. On June 21st, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mildred, the Protection Officer here at YARID. She described some of the wonderful programs and services available through the Protection office.

"It's important for the young ones to know about their status so they know how to go on with their lives" Mildred began, "Our goal is to link them to services…to become better people who can manage with their day to day lives and better their futures."

HIV is an unfortunate reality for many people living in Uganda, which is why the HIV counseling and testing program exists as a space for people to come and be tested. Middie acknowledged that encouraging people to take the test is often difficult. They are afraid of the outcome of testing positive and the stigma of the virus. How do you go on with your life if you are HIV positive? How do you cope? Fortunately, Mildred helps make referrals to the appropriate health services for those needing them.

Those who are negative are empowered to take preventative measures. They are introduced to special kits containing condoms and special lubricants so they can protect themselves. Mildred emphasized to me that the LGBTI community is welcome to receive HIV counseling and testing services. There is no room for discrimination of sex or gender here at YARID.

After discussing the HIV program, Mildred briefly touched on the Covid-19 Project. Covid has undoubtedly made it a challenging couple of years, and many people have been struggling as a result. YARID's Protection Office has been helping people cope and deal with the pandemic, most notably by distributing food to the community members who are most in need.

The project Mildred was most excited to talk about was Mental Health. The goal is to solve and manage the problems of those who have been affected by displacement. The problem-solving process is tricky, and she assists the beneficiary in working through it.

You begin with identifying the issue and then choose the options on how to solve it. Usually, there are two types of problems: solvable and unsolvable. Solvable problems are typically easy to identify, and you can begin immediately taking steps to address them. Usually, solvable problems lie in the realm of lack of job, rent, or food, and Mildred will point you in the right direction to help address the problem. Unsolvable problems are more challenging to manage, but there are ways to deal with them. Unsolvable problems come in the form of bereavements, such as the loss of a family member or friend. "You can't bring them back to life," Mildred said, "But you can help them cope." She will encourage the person mourning their loss to manage their stress by doing things as simple as breathing techniques, exercising, watching movies, and concentrating on their talents (music, football, art, etc.). It's the little things.

She finished our discussion by discussing The WELTEL Project and Support Your Friend Project. The WELTEL Project is a program done remotely on the phone. It collects data from young adults and helps them work through challenges and problems they are uncomfortable opening up to. The project endeavors to identify social supports within the community and give referrals. Based on their needs, the person is referred to a counselor or the community itself that can provide support. The Support Your Friend Project borrows a similar theme of community. If you are struggling psychologically or emotionally, the project encourages the community to help each other out. It is friends reaching out to each other to help cope and live, and hopefully, become empowered enough to live positively and gain new life skills and knowledge.

I noticed that empowerment was a key theme throughout her description of the projects. Here in Uganda, Refugees and IDPs can find themselves in a very vulnerable position. Due to the pressures, stigmas, and other challenges they face as displaced people, they often fear that they have no control over their lives. These projects help them begin the process of becoming stronger and more confident, taking back control of their own life, and claiming their rights. And arguably, just as importantly, the protection office is a safe space where those in need can come to get the help they need.


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