On February 22 the story of Francis Okello from Uganda was released. He wanted to kill himself when he was blinded at the young age of 12 by a bomb left unexploded during one of the many battles in the war in his homeland. Okello was digging in his family garden when the bomb detonated, blinding him instantly.
Okello said, “I would have nightmares,” as a result of living in an area caught between the warring Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and Ugandan forces.
“Life became worthless because I was stigmatised,” said Okello.
He was suicidal until he made friends with a dog named Tiger at his local boarding school. Before then, he felt great shame at having to ask for help in getting to the bathroom at night.
“I hated burdening people for help,” said the now 29-year-old father of two.
Okello and Tiger got close, and Tiger started helping Okello walk to the toilet at night. This is a rarity in East Africa, as many people there fear dogs and they are primarily only used as guards.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Okello took what he learned from Tiger and trained as a community psychologist so he could set up the Comfort Dog Project in 2015. Since then, he has helped more than 300 people who have been traumatized by the brutal war.
A few of the favorite things for the rebels to do is kidnap children to use them as sex slaves and soldiers. Uganda’s ministry of health estimates that a full seven out of ten people in the northern part of the country is traumatized by the events there.
A full 2 million have been uprooted from their homes. The LRA occupied the area until 2005.
“When I witnessed my father and my two brothers being hacked to death, I never thought I would heal again – until now,” said Akumu, a volunteer at the project.
There are thousands of former abductees just like Akumu that suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, suicidal thoughts, and depression as a result of the brutality they have suffered and witnessed.
Those sorts of emotions can wreak havoc when a person is trying to rebuild their lives from ruins left over after a war, according to experts.
As we all know, the presence of dogs can provide comfort to people who are struggling with things that bother them the most. Research proves that dogs can be a great comfort when even other humans simply cannot help.
THEY ARE RESCUES
As if all that good wasn’t enough, Okello rescues a lot of the dogs he uses at the project. He gets them from The Big Fix, Uganda’s one, and only veterinary hospital.
“I mainly use stray dogs because they face tough conditions,” said Okello. “When these dogs bond with our patients, they form a companionship that heals both parties.”
For more information on The Comfort Dog Project click here.
Feature Image via TheComfortDogProject