Apollo’s Story – Solving Gender-Based Violence
Demonstrating Empathy and Being an Example:
How a Project Para-Social Worker Supports Better Outcomes
From 2015 – 2020, World Education’s Bantwana Initiative has implemented Better Outcomes for Children and Youth in Eastern and Northern Uganda (BOCY) in 23 districts, bettering the lives of more than 135,000 highly vulnerable HIV-infected and -affected children and their families.
The case of domestic abuse in Amoni Village reported to BOCY Project para-social worker Aseu Apollo followed a familiar story line . . .
In a family of impoverished subsistence farmers, with barely enough money to cover basic needs, the wife/mother carried most of the burden of care. During bouts of drunkenness, her husband subjected her to severe physical violence. On several occasions, she and their young children had to sleep outside the house to avoid beatings.
“My husband only becomes abusive when he drinks — but short of alcohol, he is a very calm man,” the wife explained to Apollo.
Combining his skills developed as a BOCY-trained para-social worker — and the empathy born from his own lived experience — Apollo took up the case and organized a joint visit with local authorities to the family. The woman explained the frustrations the husband was putting her through and it was unanimously agreed that the husband was in the wrong. The husband apologized to the family and explained that his drunkenness was sparked by the recent loss of his mother.
Apollo advised the husband that drinking only worsened his situation and put the lives of his family in danger. The husband agreed to participate in counselling as a way of coping with the mother’s death and he promised to quit drinking alcohol. Later, the husband reported that “We are now happy and more united. We talk about any issues that come up in our home and we don’t fight anymore.”
The joy of serving and supporting
Over the past year, in his role as a BOCY Project para-social worker, Apollo has addressed many similar cases — and is able to handle them with great empathy, often by sharing his own story:
“I am a very old man now … and I have lived through most of the situations that [typically] disturb families,” Apollo explains. In fact, he adds, “I was once a drunkard and I know its dangers. I therefore use myself as an example while advising people in different situations.”
Apollo prides himself in being able to support, counsel, and help families coping with multiple stresses — and feels there is no greater joy than that derived from helping.
What’s a “typical” day at work?
Apollo’s work consists of following up or visiting project-enrolled households that have been identified as vulnerable and assessing the progress they are making and identifying any issues that arise from the community. He handles all cases using his skills and knowledge, but refers those that he may not be in position to address fully.
“No day is similar to the other — every day comes with its challenges. Even when problems seem the same, they may need to be handled differently,” Apollo says.
What keeps him motivated?
Apollo derives his motivation from the fact that the work he does is appreciated and recognized.
“Every time you visit us and give us trainings,” he says to World Education project staff, “it means that you are recognizing our work and you appreciate us.” In addition, the para-social worker stipend and other items provided to these cadres to support their work — such as bicycles, briefcase bags, pens, and booklets — also motivate him to put more effort into his work. Learn more about WEI’s inputs and strategies to address gender-based violence under BOCY.
What makes a good para-social worker?
Apollo lists some key qualities that govern the work of an effective para-social worker — confidentiality, being approachable, problem-solving, and empathy.
“We are often told a lot of [personal] issues by those who trust us, and it is important that we don’t disclose this information” in careless ways, he explains. “It is also necessary to be approachable so that people with challenges find it easy to talk to you. And empathy helps you put yourself in the shoes of the person with the problem.”