Filda Akumu, a Ugandan war survivor, credits her dog Lokoroma for saving her life. She was only 13 years old when a rebel group kidnapped her and her brothers from their home in the city of Gulu.
That armed group is the Lord’s Resistance Army, infamous for rebelling against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. They are notorious for abducting children like Filda to force them to be sex slaves or fighters.
When Filda returned to her parents a year later after contracting an illness and being left to die, she was by herself. The rebels had murdered her siblings in front of her.
Filda spent the next 15 years alone despite being with her parents and the community. The memories of her time with the Lord’s Resistance Army still haunted her; she had PTSD and was suicidal. It didn’t help that some of Filda’s neighbors spread hurtful rumors about her.
So when she matched with a canine from The Comfort Dog Project, Filda decided to name him Lokoroma. In Acholi, her language, the name means “no more gossip.“
A man named Francis Okello Oloya founded Uganda’s Comfort Dog Project because of his experience with the helpfulness of dogs. Francis was just a boy when he lost his eyesight after a land mine exploded in his family’s garden.
Despite his newfound blindness, Francis persevered and continued attending school. Two stray dogs near the campus took to the boy and started guiding him around the area.
One of them led him, while the other walked behind them. Francis was astonished because none of the canines had trained for this task; they simply did it.
Francis eventually went on to acquire a degree in psychology. Afterward, he established the project, which takes in unwanted dogs and matches them with people who need emotional support canines. For five months, they train their pooches and learn to care for them.
The handlers also receive counseling to help them process their emotions. Not all the beneficiaries of The Comfort Dog Project match with a dog, but all of them undergo therapy.
Lokoroma has made a significant difference in Filda’s life by helping her manage her anger, depression, and fear. Filda is now paying it forward by volunteering her time to the project.
Sadly, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in Uganda. Some people disapprove of going to a mental health professional because doing so implies, ironically, that one is already beyond help.
Others scoff at the idea of training dogs for therapy. They see the animals as useful only for guarding their owners’ houses or helping them hunt.
Fortunately, perspectives toward psychological well-being and the healing power of animals are slowly beginning to change in the country. Watch Filda and Lokoroma here: