The International HUG Foundation

Fighting OKWEKYAWA, Supporting Mothers

i.HUG conducted a needs assessment in Kabalagala, Uganda that showed deep poverty and violence–especially violence against women and children. The impact was overwhelming: Of the 50 adults interviewed, 35 were severely depressed. More than 20 of those were suicidal.


Members of the community termed depression as OKWEKYAWA in their local language. All said they see symptoms of depression among people in the community and even themselves. Said one woman, “I have tried to abandon my children many times…I feel hopeless, no future, my life is in total darkness.”


Indeed, the effects of depression can be far reaching and the needs assessment underscored the negative impact depression has on the lives of children and families as a whole. Depression was recognized by communities as a source of impairment—in work, in social functioning, in participating in community functions and rituals, in caring for self, children, and other family members. Specifically, people articulated how depression led to greater challenges in supporting families, and to mistreating children including severe beating, denying them food and basic necessities, abandonment, and neglect.


Despite the fact that depression is such a widespread problem, very few people knew how to support people suffering from it. Interviewees said they responded to depressed people by ignoring them, beating them (if spouse), or excommunicating them, where as very few referred them to community or church leaders for support. It was clear there was no social support system in place to help the depressed.


Based on these findings, i.HUG initiated a support group that aims to reduce depression among the targeted beneficiaries, their children and families. The project will use an approach called Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Groups (IPT-G), which is an evidenced based psychotherapy for depression administered in group format which requires that individuals examine the interpersonal context of their depression, find the links between depression and their environment, and make changes in their interactions. In IPT-G people tend to see themselves as part of the family and community unit before they see themselves as individuals. This is relevant in the local culture and could be a critical success factor.


For 16 weeks, 25 severely depressed women are meeting every Tuesday sharing their problems and supporting one another so that at the end they will have reduced symptoms and increased functionality and general well being, and improve their abilities as caregivers. The group sessions are facilitated by Christine Kawesi an IPT-G expert and follow-up is made by the project nurse and social worker.


Based on these findings, i.HUG will seek to scale up the approach to help more of the children’s caregivers.