“Many people in Africa do not comprehend issues of anxiety, panic attacks, depression and trauma. The phrase “mental health and well being” is looked at as a negative thing, and I am forced to find new vocabulary in my work and advocacy towards building psycho-social support systems. The truth is that quality of work and the peace of our communities are all affected if we do not have individuals with good emotional and mental well being. Wounds will only give back wounds to society…”
Ugandan self taught theatre practitioner, youth worker, and award winning performance – Rashida Namulondo began her early education at Bright Grammar boarding primary school, before moving on to Nabisunsa Girls’ School and Kibuli Senior Secondary School. She later bagged a Bsc. in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the Islamic University in Uganda.
Born in a large middle class family, Rashida was closest to her mother. She fondly recalls moments from her childhood, when she sat with her through visits from other women in her community – a practice through which she learnt the art of conversation. From the personal stories of these women, Rashida learnt that they were being suffocated by several ordeals from their past and present relationships and talking about their problems seemed to offer them solace and alleviate their struggles. However, fearing judgment from other women, they could not fully open up about domestic abuse from their husbands and scars from their childhood, even though these layers of anger had made them bitter towards their own children. This experience at such tender years inspired Rashida to draw from her inner storytelling abilities, writing short texts about things she heard and saw – documenting even the unspoken words of women in her community.
Despite having an early start in the discovery of self-awareness and inner peace, this journey became more defined when she lost her mother. Suffering this significant loss put Rashida in the shoes of those women from her community whose pain and bitterness she had only imagined from her mat floor. With a sudden change from a stable life to one of instability and uncertainty, our Super Girl succumbed to a few months of grief-induced depression and elevated bouts of anxiety. Undergoing this experience first hand, she gained a deeper understanding of depression, anxiety, trauma, and the consequences of not having access to the requisite therapy and support in her community.
Recognizing that social stigma intimidated people into being silent about depression and related mental health issues, Rashida stepped up to initiate The Sophie Muwanika Institute of Art for change. The Institute employs alternative edu-thearaputic methods to facilitate proper emotional development and intelligence among school children; improving their ability to participate meaningfully in building their communities. Through an informal experiential learning system, the institute engages children and adolescents through theatre/storytelling and other peace building activities, providing safe spaces for them to share their personal stories and open up conversations on inner peace, dialogue, co-existence, human rights, and gender issues. Currently, The Sophie Muwanika Institute runs various programs including; theatre therapy sessions which provide psycho-social support to foster self healing/reconciliation for young people without access to formal therapy services, and the “Tolerance Tree” devoted to developing the skills of young peace builders on developing inner peace as the highway to building peaceful communities.
In addition to her and advocacy for mental and emotional health awareness, building inner peace and providing psycho-social support, Rashida is a poet who uses words and stories for social healing and development. She also serves as a poetry writing and performance coach and has facilitated several workshops (both locally and internationally) on “finding your voice and telling your story”. Rashida Namulondo is also the co-founder of a very successful all women theatre group Afroman Spice whose humorous and engaging stories explore women’s trajectory across communities. Featuring on both local and international stages, the shows provoke a balanced dialogue where men and women are brought to the table to discuss creating a better/safer world with equal opportunities for all.
Rashida’s work has been recognized across several platforms. In 2013, she was a recipient of the BN Poetry Award. She was also named a 2016 Laureate Global Fellow by Youth Action Net, as one of 30 young people creating change across the world. Again, Rashida participated in the United Nations Alliance of civilization (UNAOC) 2014 Summer School as well as the 7th UNAOC Global Forum (2016) in Baku.
With academic qualification in Food Science and Human Nutrition, people often wonder why Rashida has chosen to work in the fields of theatre and peace building. Her answer is however simple: Both subjects have these in common – service, behavioral change, community education and transformation. Rashida Namulondo strongly believes that if we are to fight poverty, ensure good health conditions, achieve equal rights for women and build peaceful communities, we need to start from the inside and build peaceful individuals who are at peace with their past and present.
We commend Rashida Namulondo’s courageous efforts! We wish her only the best, going forward.