Carl Gaede gave up the American dream and a charmed life for the tough job of counselling the Ugandan victims of unimaginable horror.

Carl Gaede hears stories every day that break his heart. When asked to tell them, he refers people to written accounts. I found one from the refugee camp where he works.
'My name is Agnes and I'm 30 years old. One day I went with three friends to dig for food in our garden. The rebels came with their guns and killed my two friends and raped me in front of my two-year-old twins. Because they cried in helplessness my twins were also killed in front of me. After coming to Nakivale Refugee Settlement Camp my nine-year-old daughter was raped and left unable to speak due to the trauma of her experience. I wanted to die, but I felt mostly dead anyway.'

Gaede was working a cushy office job in Wisconsin seven years ago when he decided to move to Uganda to help child soldiers and other victims of the civil war.

He was in New Zealand this month looking for new sponsors for his trauma counselling organisation called Tutapona meaning 'we shall be healed' in Swahili, which TEAR Fund supports.

Gaede had worked his way up the career ladder as a psychotherapist and was set to live the American dream with a house, a family and two cars. But in 2006 he watched the documentary Invisible Children about displaced Ugandan children, with his wife.
"We were crying and looking at each other helplessly. I was so angry."

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He travelled to Uganda that same year to discover there was no counselling service for the thousands of victims left in the wake of destruction caused by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

What Carl saw and heard has stayed with him since.

"The LRA cut-off civilians' lips to stop them talking to the government. They cut off ears to stop them listening, and noses just to instil terror. The victims were then ostracized by their communities due to their deformities."

Then there were the children.

"The LRA forced villagers to show them where the children were, often their own nieces and nephews. The children were then forced to kill their own parents so they would have no reason to run away when they were child soldiers. They were raped and forced to mutilate other children."

It's estimated 35,000 to 50,000 children were abducted from their homes during the 20 years the LRA took Northern Uganda hostage, displacing 90% of its population.
Gaede returned to Wisconsin to sell all his possessions and set up Tutapona, and relocated his wife and two young girls to Gulu, Northern Uganda, the following year.
They didn't need to search for war victims, they were surrounded by them.
They went to Nakivale, a refugee settlement which has held displaced peoples from 10 countries since the 1950s.

Completely out of their depth, Carl and his wife, through trial and error, adopted and used a curriculum called Empower, written by Australian psychologist for war veterans.
"Every day people turned up in the thousands to take part in exercises meant for small to medium- sized groups. We couldn't turn them away.

They taught victims how to attach new emotions to the terrible memories they had, separating them from shame and fear. Lastly, and most effectively, they taught people how to forgive those who had harmed them.

"The anger and bitterness is the last thing people hold on to, because it gives them power," Gaede says. "But once they forgive they become free, and there is an amazing transformation within them."

Gaede says it is only this that keeps him going.

"I see the worst, most evil side of humanity. But I also see the best side and I get to see it win. I see love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I see beauty rise up out of the ashes, and I get to see those who once wished they were dead, now singing and dancing."
He describes one memory that always makes him emotional.

"My team watched a young girl in a refugee settlement with no lips walk up and offer food to the boy who had mutilated her. It was just such a beautiful display of forgiveness."

Gaede says Tutapona has counselled more than 30,000 refugees in Uganda and has seen transformation in the vast majority.

"To a western psychologist, it looks extremely simple. But it works, I believe, because of the messages of forgiveness, grace and love which are extremely powerful."


John Watson is an Education and Justice Advocate and Communications Officer at TEAR Fund NZ

Donate: tutapona.com
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