CLAMP: Bringing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support to urban refugees

by Dr. Helen Liebling, Dr. Eugene Kinyanda, and Dr. Penelope Clamp
Mental Health & Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS)

CLAMP: Bringing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support to urban refugees

by Dr. Helen Liebling, Dr. Eugene Kinyanda, and Dr. Penelope Clamp
28 April 2022

Beneficiaries of the CLAMP project

Uganda hosts over 1.5 million refugees, and more than 80,000 live in Kampala. In line with the government’s Out of Camp policy, refugees are presumed to be more self-reliant, and do not receive regular humanitarian assistance. This sometimes means that urban refugees face challenges when it comes to affording food and housing.

On 1st September 2019, charitable funding was donated from the private funds of John and Andrea Clamp, and the CLAMP (Community WeLlbeing and Mental Health Project among Refugees in Uganda) project started running. The team included Dr Eugene Kinyanda, and a Ugandan team of peer counsellors, a clinical psychologist, and psychiatric clinical officer, with the support of Dr Penelope Clamp, a psychiatrist who runs two mental health clinics, and Dr Helen Liebling, Clinical Psychologist.

Dr Eugene Kinyanda is a psychiatrist, a senior investigator scientist and head of the mental health section of the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. He has more than 20 years’ experience working with war affected population. Dr Helen Liebling has been carrying out applied research with survivors of conflict and post-conflict sexual violence and torture in Africa since 1998. Together with Dr Kinyanda and other colleagues, they established African Psycare Research Organisation (APRO), a Non-Governmental Organisation that carries out applied research, training, and consultation with survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and torture in Africa.

The CLAMP project provides much needed emotional well-being support for urban refugees in Kampala, who come from a variety of countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda.  The care model has three steps:

  1. Refugee peer counsellor-led psychological intervention.
  2. Psychiatric nurse/psychiatric clinical officer-led intervention.
  3. Referral to a mental health department at the regional or national hospital where specialised mental health services are available, including assessments and treatment.

A primary focus is to select and train refugees in counselling, enabling them to counsel their peers to increase resilience within the community, and help manage depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. As of today, seven refugees from the Somali and Congolese community have been interviewed and recruited as peer counsellors. A series of workshops were held to develop the content of a training manual that contains topics ranging from post-migration stress to war trauma and torture. It also includes questionnaires and assessment instruments. The apprenticeship training for refugee peer counsellors was led by a Ugandan clinical psychologist employed by the project.

Although individual counselling is provided, groups seem to be the participants preferred setting to share experiences, and over two-hundred refugees have benefited from the programme.


People sitting in a circle


The project also assists refugees in establishing social enterprise projects that help refugees generate a sustainable income to support their families. The social enterprises also provide group support where refugees can share and solve the challenges they face in a trusted space. Some of the social enterprises started in 2019 included soap making and Ugandan traditional dressmaking. This initiative follows the success of social enterprise groups established with South Sudanese refugees by Dr Helen Liebling and colleagues in settlements in Northern Uganda.

The CLAMP project is successfully assisting large numbers of refugees through counselling, resilience building, and social enterprises. Refugees have fed back that they are grateful to have the CLAMP project services, which are very well utilised.

The training I have received has also benefitted me personally to deal with life’s stressors and solve real life difficulties. I have also been empowered to help refugees within my community. I am so grateful to CLAMP.

- Joel Bahaya, Congolese refugee and peer counsellor

The CLAMP project was successful until it was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The venue where the project was held was lost. Businesses started through the social enterprise programme unfortunately collapse. In 2021, the social enterprise programme re-launched under a new group model. Twenty participants have come up with three projects: a hair salon, a tailoring project, and a second-hand shoe selling project. These participants are currently undergoing training with CLAMP staff.

Although the two-year funding is coming to an end, the project has re-started and is progressing well. CLAMP has put out a call for funding in the hopes to maintain and expand this project.