The story of Nakivale refugee camp: Abandoned by nature but not nurture


It is often the other way round…but not in this case. When less than three years ago I managed to visit this vast settlement in Uganda, with different displaced African communities spread over 27km, it struck me that this was in spite rather than because of organizations that were supposed to help. In particular, considering I funded the visit myself, and there was no help for the large number of children in need on the ground.

The actual workshop made it all worthwhile, in spite of the tough conditions. These young professionals (teachers, social workers, psychologists – we called them ‘refugee graduates’), were as intelligent, motivated and capable as you would find anywhere in Boston or Cambridge – but they had rotten luck to be persecuted from their own countries. Still, they were refreshing and imaginative in setting up programmes for children in their communities.

I had the same feeling of abandonment and failure, when half-hearted attempts to get support for them afterwards, did not materialize. Some of these great people will have moved on by now. And yet, against all odds, I just heard that the core group of young Burundians set up a grassroot charity, CEBUNA (, with a range of activities for children in their communities. The moto “Engaged for Success” speaks for itself. Yves, Jean Baptiste, Bella, Eric and Pierre Claver, you deserve all the respect and admiration in the world!




Can we get the untouchable children of India back in touch?

Recently reading the book “Incarnations: A history of India in 50 lives”, it struck me how many have tried to break the caste system over the centuries, with slow and variable success. So, when Chandrika, Murali (from FRAMe NGO in Mysore) and Steve came up with the project, backed up by an IRDF grant from Chester University, I got hooked!

We will use some domains of the WACIT service transformation framework within the Dalit communities, the lowest of castes, to understand which mental health needs and service barriers can be explained by discrimination on top of poverty and general status of resources. We will be meeting children, parents and professionals such as slum development officers. Then, hopefully, go a step further in coming up with reasonable action plans.

‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘scattered’, so how appropriate to try to integrate them, no matter how tall an order this is. This is what we should be aspiring for in 2020, even if not always appealing to the methodologically or conceptually purists.


WACIT new paper: Glimpse of hope from children in care homes on a bleak day for world peace?

It all seemed dark in the wake of yesterday’s events and one act of folly putting global peace at risk. Yet, here is reminder of the better side of human nature, particularly from the youngest generation. Children in Pakistan care homes exhibited high levels of PTSD and common mental health problems, more or less as expected; but maybe against the script also demonstrated high levels of posttraumatic growth, thus pointing the way to additional/alternative interventions. It also keeps us going, in spite of world leaders’ attempts:


Refugee crisis in Lesvos: Was I too harsh on the government?

All eyes have been on the Greek island of Lesvos for some time. This seems to have become the symbol of the refugee crisis in the borders between Asia and Europe. The presenter smiled when I mentioned that I was born there ‘a long time ago’!

The BBC documentary focused on the notorious reception camp of Moria. This time, the angle was on children’s mental health needs. As I am getting fed up of stating the obvious and having a safe academic discussion on post-traumatic stress and the rest, I opted to focus on the integration of psychosocial supports throughout the migration stages, no matter how harsh.

But there comes the catch. How can you integrate in the absence of co-ordination of what is already there, and in the presence of inhumane conditions? We keep talking about the socioecological framework, but often steer clear on what its outer layers of society, policy and attitudes mean. If we truly believe the evidence on the dynamic links between these layers on the vulnerable child, how can we remain silent on state-imposed conditions or indifference, be it in Lesvos or Calais; or politicians stirring hatred for refugees, be it in the UK or Hungary? All in the heart of Europe and the middle of winter.

You need Dropbox to watch the brief BBC documentary, but it is easy to download:



What does de-institutionalisation actually mean?

Finishing the second round of our tour in Crete with the SOS Children’s Villages, the objectives are breaking down in front of us. There are well meaning principles of getting ‘all’ children out of institutions, but these are fraught with difficulties and risks – notwithstanding the parallel development of alternative care (kinship, fostering and adoption), which require planning, investment and support systems in place.

Talking to some inspiring residential caregivers, there is a lot more we need to do: improve child-centred environments and practices, enhance nurturing and quality of care, equip caregivers, open care homes to society, bring services in, exhaust opportunities for children’s reintegration, and improve criteria and pathways to future admissions when these cannot be avoided.

New WACIT paper: It takes more than training to make impact

I recently shared my shock on the conditions of a ‘European’ children’s home. It became clear from that visit that training was not enough, but rather needed a co-ordinated approach, with service transformation and key managers on board.

Here is relevant evidence on professionals’ experience on similar barriers to implementing what they had learnt from their interdisciplinary child protection training in Saudi Arabia. Essentially, training needs to be accompanied by co-ordinated awareness programmes to change attitudes and beliefs, and organizational changes to support practitioners in their everyday work:







Young generation carrying on Prof Thabet’s legacy

Do we believe in coincidences? Only two days after Abdel Aziz’s untimely loss, this pre-planned student event by Amnesty International and the Palestinian Society could not be more fitting.

“I would not be here without the work of this great man. He drove it, I merely helped to publish it. And we would have little evidence to discuss.”

Such as this article in the Lancet, one of his finest moments:

The article stirred a heated debate at the time, with political distortions, but ultimately opened up a new field of research on how children process and report trauma.

Knowing Abdel Aziz, nothing would have given him more pleasure than young people taking over the baton. This is the only way.