It is not unusual to host volunteers at CoRSU, but this was the first time we had a Psychotherapist visit the hospital. Before he left we had a chat with him about his work and visit.
Tell us your name and what you do
My name is Andrea Bossari. I am a psychologist and psychotherapist. A psychologist is an expert researcher about the mind and it takes five years to study at the university. A psychotherapist is a person who treats people and tries to alleviate their discomfort. Studying psychotherapy takes four more years.
Where did you study to be a psychologist and psychotherapist?
I studied all this in Italy. But I also love culture, and that is one of the reasons why I came here. I also studied abroad. I spent one year in Japan on an exchange program when I was doing my master’s degree, then I spent summer to prepare my master thesis in Thailand, Asia in a monastery. I spent there three weeks with monks, living almost like them, following part of the rules to study meditation because eastern philosophies already 2500 years ago had incredible knowledge of the mind. They used a lot of practices to alter the mind, like meditation. So I was curious to study more to understand more the mind. And indeed meditation currently is, since like ten years ago becoming more and more popular in the west as a way of treatment because it’s very effective. It’s called mindful approach treatment.
I also studied languages. I have been in Brazil to study Portuguese, in Colombia to study Spanish and there I developed my second passion-anthropology. That was one of the reasons that pushed me to come here. When I heard of the proposal to be a visiting psychologist on volunteer basis to this centre in Uganda, I accepted with a lot of enthusiasm and joy because it was a chance to discover Africa, learn a new culture, and learn the psychological differences. It’s a matter called cross-cultural psychology. It was a pleasure.
So, do you speak Spanish and Portuguese?
Yes, they are very close to Italian so it was easy for me. (Andrea mummers some words in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. The interviewer cannot quite tell the difference. That’s how close those three languages are.)
How do you find Uganda so far?
It is great. I am very happy. My friends told me Africa is so easy, and I didn’t have to worry. Indeed, I have found it easy since I arrived from the airport. There is in the end something relaxing. That is how I find Uganda. For example, being white is not a problem at all. It’s also something fun and nice being a mzungu. Here everybody is smiling warmly and children when they see a mzungu, they always wave and smile. I feel comfortable with the people, weather and landscape.
Let’s narrow it down to CoRSU. What do you think about this hospital? Did you know the kind of work we do before this visit?
Massimo, the CEO of CBM Italy described for me a little bit about CoRSU but of course I did not know anything. So I was very surprised by the excellence of the centre. I work with Christine (Principal Physiotherapist at CoRSU); she is a very good worker, very keen. She pushed me to work so hard. But it was very good because I explored every field in CoRSU. I also went to the villages with CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation) field workers. The standards here are very high and I think one year from now it will become big and bigger because the people here are working very hard.
What was your intention of coming here?
I came here because CBM wanted to try to put some psychological assistance to people with disabilities with problems. So they are trying to see how to offer psychological services. But I accepted also because of personal reasons- for personal growth to get a chance to discover the culture here and discover Africa.
Have you achieved what you came to do?
Yes, definitely. I am very satisfied. The tough part was being confined in my guest house but I feel satisfied. It’s great, and moreover everybody welcomed me. Uganda is beautiful, calm and relaxed. I went to Jinja, the Nile and the weather is like spring back in Italy.
Did you find a difference in the way you practice psychotherapy in Italy and here in Uganda?
No. But there are differences between culture and of course language. Language was the main big obstacle but in the end this is great because we are really human beings. The core is the same so there was no much difference, the main concepts of feelings and emotions are all the same. But of course I had to work in a different way. For example I had to work one session for each patient, yet psychotherapy takes a lot of time, many sessions.
All the patients I worked with apart from one could not speak English. It was difficult but I had to use all the power of the subconscious and I felt very happy because I felt I improved a lot. The situation here was extreme but I had nothing to lose so I did all I could, gave all I had, followed my deep subconscious and it really worked. That surprised me. All the patients said thank you to me in a touching way. I gave them something nice, so I am very happy.
Andrea in the community with Agnes, one of the CoRSU CBR workers and a patient
What are some of the challenges you experienced working here?
Language, like I earlier mentioned. I had to use a translator and that slowed everything down.
Time was also a challenge because I had only one session per person. Of course you cannot treat someone fully in that time but you can give them some seeds. You can really help them to make some changes. You can break some defense mechanisms, so even one hour could be very useful.
How long does it usually take for you to treat someone fully?
It’s very personal. Everybody is different. It’s different from medical diseases. In psychotherapy, everybody is unique. But on average, it takes between 6 months to one year to treat common diseases like anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Do you think CoRSU needs a full time psychologist?
Yes, it would be great. It would be important to hire a psychologist who speaks the language and can communicate with all the patients. I consider it every fundamental. Children with such disabilities are broken in their bodies but also in the emotion – mind. Their schoolmates treat them badly to the extent that they feel different from others. They do not express emotions, either of joy or anger. So once you repair the body, you of course change their life but they are also scared in their emotion and soul. So there is really need to help them, to teach them to connect to their emotion again.
What is the most memorable moment for you?
• They are many, all related to patients. The most recent one was with the CBR staff, Sylvia. We visited a village with a malnourished child. I also felt a sentiment of admiration for William (Community mobiliser) who was helping a patient to build a standing frame.
• The other was with the patients I had. One boy came with a bandage due to a fracture of the arm. He was the only one who could speak English. He was so happy because with him I spent more time.
• Another moment was playing with children at the rehabilitation centre. My favorite is a girl who has no arms and legs but they are making her artificial legs to help her walk.
Anything else you want to say?
I hope to come back. I will ask CBM to send me back to Africa. Say thank you to everybody.
Andrea at a school in a Kampala suburb to see one of the pupils who received surgery thanks to help from CBM Italy