Developing Mindfulness for Children Living in Post-War Northern Uganda

Kyle Matsuba implements Mind-Up Program in Gulu, Uganda

Larissa Petrillo and Kyle Matsuba, Dec. 5 2017. (Janelle Swift)

In Northern Uganda, children who once faced the brutalities of murder and rape now live with the devastating aftermath of post-traumatic stress disorder. Kyle Matsuba, a KPU Psychology instructor, is hoping to implement a system to develop social and emotional stability for these youth through his work with the MindUp Program.

The people of Uganda have suffered greatly at the hands of The Lord’s Resistance Movement, a rebellious Christian cult that operates within the country. Since 1986, it has been at war with the Ugandan government and, according to Matsuba, has been kidnapping children and forcing them into serving as child soldiers.

In 2006, the government reached a cessation of hostilities agreement with the LRA, although it still exists in other parts of Africa, outside of Uganda.

The MindUp Program focuses on social and emotional learning, but Matsuba has adapted it to help children struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He designed the 15-week program for schools in a town called Gulu, and it aims to help those children retain their focus and become more attentive.

For his work with the program, Matsuba has won the Good Work Award from the Association of Moral Education.

Matsuba has thus far completed a total of three studies with primary school students as participants. His first study was based upon a larger school with around 200 students. Here, he found that there was an increase in empathy and a decrease in depression for those taking part in the program.

During the second study, he made some interactive changes to the program and decided to conduct it in two separate private schools—one that hosted the MindUp Program and one that didn’t—while focusing on receiving feedback instead of funding. The school without the program showed an increase in anger, loneliness, hostility, and rejection.

“There’s something about the school culture; it’s not a culture about education there,” says Matsuba. “Teachers aren’t well-paid individuals. Most of the teachers that I’ve worked with have jobs doing something else.”

The third study took a closer look at the comparison school from the second study, the one without the MindUp program. It included 18 students who helped generate four waves of data over six months. Again, once the MindUp program had been implemented, the students became more capable of stabilizing their emotions.

Matsuba will be going back to Northern Uganda in January for another three months to further his research with MindUp, and to teach mindfulness and yoga for the educators there.

After a presentation of his findings at Kwantlen Polytechnic University on Dec. 5, Matsuba received plenty of positive feedback.

“It’s exciting. I’m a big fan of the applied research,” says Dawn-Leah Macdonald, a friend and former peer of Matsuba’s. “When you can begin to actually see the differences, it’s so exciting.”

Susan Thompson, a psychology instructor at KPU, agrees. “This is really important research,” she says,” because we have trauma situations happening everywhere and kids are suffering everywhere, so if there’s something we can do to help, that’s great.”


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