Nelson (15) is Moving Beyond Anger in Uganda
Nelson (now 15) grew up in the midst of fear, violence and insecurity in DR Congo - the scene of more than 20 years of internal armed conflict. Nelson and his family escaped to safety in neighbouring Uganda after they were targeted as part of a brutal attack by armed rebels.
Nelson’s father recalls the events of that night readily. “It was two o’clock in the morning when rebels entered the local hospital and killed 50 people,” he recalls. “They then came our way with a letter - and it was clear they were looking for me.”
Nelson’s father escaped to Uganda - but the rebels then turned their attention to Nelson himself. The rebels threatened to force him to have sex with his brothers and sisters unless his father returned the next day. That was the moment that convinced Nelson’s mother to escape with her family and leave everything behind.
Nelson and the rest of the family followed his father to Uganda - but their escape was far from easy. "The journey was difficult and I feared for my safety," Nelson recalls. The family was eventually reunited after several long weeks and found sanctuary among others in a refugee settlement.
The family were allocated their own plot of land - thanks to Uganda’s unique asylum reception system - and slowly began to piece their lives back together. Yet the complicated emotions they struggled with remained - for Nelson in particular.
A Dark Legacy
"Sometimes my head is so full of horrible experiences of war that I can't think properly,” Nelson explains. “I remember rebels wanting to kill children. We saw dead bodies and heard bombs falling. I often have nightmares about what I've been through. I dream that I'm still in that situation."
These dark feelings frequently manifest themselves in aggressive behaviour. “When I think back to Congo, I get irritated,” Nelson says. “I get angry and I start fighting. But I don't want that at all…"
Nelson was the target of rebels when his dad fled to Uganda. The family were reunited when Nelson's mother decided to escape to safety.
Photo: Michael Jessurun
Developing Life Skills
War Child facilitator Bosman supports children like Nelson through the TeamUp programme. “We use sports and play activities to support children to deal with their feelings and regain confidence in themselves and others,” he explains.
“All the activities are linked to themes such as fear, bullying, anger and friendship. For example, if we see that children are struggling with a lot of anger, we choose activities linked to the theme of conflict. The children learn through play that fighting is not the solution to problems.”
Nelson takes part in all the activities - and Bosman has seen him make real progress. "Nelson was a real fighter but I can see him moving forward during the sessions,” Bosman says.
Taking part in TeamUp activities helps Nelson deal with his feelings of anger and fear.
Photo: Michael Jessurun
*All names in this story have been changed to preserve the safety of the children who take part in our programmes.