‘All we need to do is understand that these people are human’

In Uganda, people living with mental health problems are shunned by most of society. Many are homeless and spend their days walking from one end of the street to another or just sitting by the roadside. However, in Fort Portal, Uganda yesterday (19 November) things were different .

by Geoffrey Mutegeki Araali

In Uganda, people living with mental health problems are a common sight at garbage dumps where they scavenge for food. Shunned by most of society, many are homeless and spend their days walking from one end of the street to another or just sitting by the roadside.

However, Monday (19 November) was different in Fort Portal, Kabarole District, Uganda.

Mr Zebidayo Mwesige Mukwiki, through the Tooro Cultural Research Development (TCRD), brought 30 homeless people living with mental health issues to eat with 100 persons with disabilities and other vulnerable persons at Gardens Restaurant. The group were all offered clean clothes to wear and offered haircuts. After the meal they danced to blaring music.

Getting the group together was not an easy task. However, Mr Mukwiki succeeded after two weeks of trying to first befriend some with food and sometimes money.

He said:  “We realised that the government and NGOs had not come up to help the ‘mentally-disturbed’ people so we had to find a way to help them.

“I would find them in their different places and talk to them in a friendly way, give them money and buy them some edibles, which made them become my friends. All we need to do is to understand that these people are human and treat them that way by giving them comfort and care.”

The rare event attracted scores of residents who watched in amazement. Many in the crowd wondered how people normally seen “living wild” in the streets were kept in the same place for over three hours without running away or causing disturbance. But Mr Mukwiki said it is possible to make mentally ill people live happily and normally if they are understood well and treated the right way.

Resident Jane Katusabe said it was a surprise and pleasure to witness the event. She added: “I normally fear these people. I always think they are going to harm me wherever I meet them, but now I believe they deserve better treatment.”

Mr Mukwiki urged the government to support people living with mental health issues, just as it supports persons with disability, the elderly, orphans and youth. He said he would aim to make the gesture a regular occurrence.

 

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