New Friends and New Skills – continuing the Professional Development

Arriving at the post-graduate centre at Butabika

They came from the east of Uganda, within a few miles of the Kenyan border. They came from the west of Uganda, from within a couple of miles of the border with Congo, They came from the northwest corner of Uganda just over the border into the Congo. Some we have been working with for up to six years. Some we had met for the first time only the week before, and they didn’t really know what Jamie’s Fund was trying to do.

In the end, thirty one people came together at the postgraduate centre at Butabika, the national psychiatric hospital in Kampala, for a time of professional development, under the leadership of psychiatric staff from Butabika, and supported by some of the team from Jamie’s Fund.

We had three great days together with laughter, sharing ideas, teaching and learning. There were challenges at different levels; there was no water for the whole hospital including the accommodation where they were staying. Some of the teachers turned up very late and weren’t as interesting as they could have been; time keeping to begin with wasn’t great; but we improved that significantly.

Dr Hafsa

We were delighted that Dr. Hafsa, the government’s mental health lead came to open our workshop. She was very appreciative and encouraging about the developments that Jamie’s Fund is supporting.

The three day workshop covered a range of topics that included psychotherapy skills training, management of emergencies such as agitated or suicidal patients, and rehabilitation of patients with longer term illness.

Sessions on service development were particularly well received, because delegates had begun to catch the vision of what might be possible if they could bring services to the very villages where their patients live. Where people can attend their local health centre they don’t have to pay transport to get to the hospital, and the health centre staff can get to know them and their families. The Bwindi team started this kind of community service first and so provided a very helpful model for others to think about, imagining what they might develop in their own settings. We also heard about their alcohol harm reduction service: an important challenge all over Uganda.

Some of the audience

Service development needs excellent leadership and good teamwork, topics that provoked a lively interaction. We included discussion on the well-being of professionals working in mental health, which can bring particular pressures and certainly carries its own stigma.

One of the recurrent themes became almost a running joke: Don’t forget to collect the data! We all need data to discover the impact of any new developments. And Jamie’s Fund needs that information if we are to advocate for more resources.

Over the three days everyone worked hard but it wasn’t all work and, towards the end of the workshop, we all went out for a celebration dinner at a nearby hotel where we enjoyed having time to talk with each other about life apart from work. The challenges that some people had overcome in order to reach their current position were inspiring. One older man told me how, when he went to secondary school, he had to walk all the way, some 70 kilometres in 2 days, carrying his belongings in a wooden case on his head and on top of that was his mattress that he slept on. Others were beneficiaries of the sacrifices that the families had made to fund their education.

Dr Basangwa, the executive director of Butabika came to close the workshop. He had taught many of the people on the course and he was treated with respect and affection. It was impressive that he still knew many of their names.

A group photo with Dr Basangwa


Too soon it was over. People departed clutching their attendance certificates and bags printed with the Jamie’s Fund logo. The appreciation and gratitude of everyone involved was touching. Other than the learning and skills training, one of the great benefits of the workshop is the mutual encouragement to aim even higher: One delegate said he came thinking that his hospital was doing well: he then discovered there was so much more they could do, and he left full of plans for the future.

A participant receiving her certificate

We intend to organise another workshop next year, as we believe it is valuable for people to come together to compare experiences of the challenge of working in mental health, an area in which the staff share the stigma felt by their patients. In their own workplaces they are often isolated and unsupported. These days proved a very worthwhile time together.

As you will appreciate there is a not insignificant cost to bringing people together in this way. The benefits, however, far outweigh the cost as students are energised to try new approaches, encouraged by the stories of what is happening in other areas and supported by the new friends and colleagues made. The investment in these committed people is already benefitting large numbers of people across Uganda. If you are able to support this initiative, or other work in which Jamie’s Fund is involved, please go to the Donate site now

Participants with their bags

Ewan Wilkinson