The tangible impact of parasocial workers in Western Uganda
UNICEF trained over 856 parasocial workers in Kasese District, to have frontline workers who could easily respond to child protection issues at the village level.
Kasese:- When UNICEF trained over 856 parasocial workers in Kasese District in 2019, the objective was to have frontline workers who could easily respond to child protection issues at the village level. However, with a high prevalence of humanitarian emergencies including flooding, refugee influxes and armed group attacks, the parasocial workers (PSWs) have become the beacon of mental health and psychosocial support in their communities.
At Kambukamabwe II Cell in Mpondwe Lhubiriha Town Council, Bukonzo West County, two PSWs conduct a tri-weekly counselling visit to the Mbusa family whose 16-year-old son was killed when armed rebel groups attacked a secondary school in the town council in June 2023.
“I had lost hope and did not want to associate with anyone,” Grace Mbusa says softly, “however as the parasocial workers continued to visit and comfort us nearly every day, I knew that someone cared, and I found strength to keep going.”
Following the attack of the community in Kasese by armed groups in which over 115,011 persons were affected and 4,544 displaced in 12 lower local governments (town councils/ sub counties), the PSWs utilized several one-on-one sessions and community dialogues, to comfort and provide mental health and psychosocial support to communities.
The community dialogues aim to facilitate group cohesion and cover key child protection issues such as violence against children, child marriage, sexual exploitation and abuse and positive parenting. One by one, the community members are returning to their normal way of life; traders to the marketplace, parents back home and children to school.
“Parasocial workers are a key component of the UNICEF partnership with Kasese District in strengthening their systems to respond to emergencies and other shocks,” Allen Uhiriwe, the Programme Officer, Child Protection at UNICEF Mbarara Zonal Office notes, highlighting that, “They have the capacity to instantly provide psychosocial support and facilitate referrals to multi-sectoral service providers including justice actors for redress and support.”
With UNICEF support, the Kasese District Local Government also recruited 10 social welfare officers to further boost child protection efforts. When the PSW receives a criminal case, s/he refers to the police and reports to the social welfare officer for case management at sub county level. Once the case gets to court, the district community development officer takes over until conclusion.
“When systems are strengthened, all the work moves on its own, the communities have hope that government systems are functional, and are thus able to cope with various forms of trauma,” Faisal Kirarira Babigumira, the Kasese District Probation and Social Welfare Officer stresses. He further reveals that because the communities have developed trust in the system, incident reporting is on the rise since they know who to report to, why, where, and are certain that they will get a response.
Occasionally, the psychosocial work of the PSWs comes close to home. Two days after we left Kasese, I received a message from John that bears both the weight and the impact of his work.
“My mother just died, but I am somehow coping.”
While parasocial workers offer support to communities undergoing traumatic and challenging times, they often rely on their peers to offer them the same support. Sometimes, the issues are beyond what their peers can handle prompting a need for care for parasocial workers, a key component that needs donor support
UNICEF in collaboration with the local government in Kasese have provided community-based psychosocial support to 8,562 children and 8,601 adults and provided mental health and psychosocial support to 192 survivors and bereaved parents and families in Kasese District.