Thanks to our vast interconnected web of cyber space we seem to know what’s going on in any part of the world at any given time. Often times situations, like the refugee crisis, and the rise and threat of radical extremism feel so daunting that it doesn’t look like there can be a possible solution and the world seems much darker and grimmer then we imagine.
However, at the same time, we can also see those stories of people trying to do some good in the world. I’d like to share one such story with you. Last spring on Facebook I saw that my friend Paul Andrighetti, and his wife , Julia, had gone to Iraq. Naturally when I saw they had returned not too long after, I was curious.It turned out they had gone with an organization called Tutapona and learned that there work is only beginning. Below is an interview I conducted with him.
I’ve known Paul since I was 10 years old, and it has long been an honor to call him my friend. Thus, is is my genuine privilege to share with you a brief snapshot of the work he and his wife will be doing for the next year.
In order to get things rolling, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
First and Foremost, Thank you Jonathon for this interview and the chance to share my experience with your readership. It is a great honor to share with them and I appreciate the time and energy you are putting forward to support us.
A little about us. My name is Paul Andrighetti and my wife is Julia. We have been married for almost 5 years. We do not have kids but we do have a cute cat named Wabi (as in Wabi Sabi). I enjoy awesome nerdy stuff like D&D, Warhammer 40k, Video Games, Fantasy Novels, ect. My wife enjoys Ballet, Pinterest-ing, and Clothing shopping. We both love Nature, Rock Climbing, Hiking, and Traveling the World. We both have a heart for Refugees and those in need and strong faith in Christ that everything else rests upon.
What exactly is Tutapona?
Tutapona [To-Ta-Po-Na] is a Humanitarian Organization that specializes in Trauma Counseling for Refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples). While most NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) focus on the physical needs of refugees and IDPs, Tutapona focuses on the emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of these traumatised peoples.
What does the name mean?
The name Tutapona is Swahili for “We Will Be Healed”.
How did the organization get started?
Tutapona began 8 or 9 years ago when Carl and Julie Gaede uprooted their family and headed to Uganda, Africa in response to the severe trauma created by the civil war there and, especially, at the hands of Joseph Kony and his LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).
For 8 years they worked in Uganda providing their service to thousands and thousands of Ugandan people and more recently South Sudanese refugees fleeing into Uganda. About a year ago Carl and his family moved to Kurdistan, Iraq to expand Tutapona there in response to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis there caused by the Syrian Civil War and ISIS (Islamic State).
What makes Tutapona different from other humanitarian organizations?
What makes Tutapona unique is there emphasis on Trauma counseling. In a world with ever increasing terrorist tactics, child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, and sex trafficking the trauma felt by most of these refugees is astronomical yet most humanitarian organizations are not well equipped to provide the level and dedicated support of trauma counseling to them, rather most other organizations focus on the physical needs and education.Tutapona focuses on this and works alongside the organizations that provide the more tangible forms of relief.
Does Tutapona work with other groups providing aide in those parts of the world?
Yes. Tutapona is partnered with several other Humanitarian organizations in the Middle East. Samaritan’s Purse and World Orphan area a couple of them.
How did you and your wife first get involved in the work with them?
I knew Carl and Julie when I was young, before they moved internationally. I stayed up to date with Tutapona throughout the years but it was not until October 2015 when my wife and I decided to visit them in Uganda, Africa. For two weeks we were exposed to the work they were doing there.
I will never forget standing atop a small mountain ridge overlooking the South Sudanese border with Carl. We watched as cargo trucks rolled down the road bringing Sudanese refugees to the refugee settlement in Uganda. At that time it was 300 people a day, a staggering number of people a year when you do the math. Many of which had witnessed their loved ones murdered or raped before their eyes. Today, more than 2000 people cross the border each day… My heart broke that day for those people, and all people who have suffered such physical and emotional loss.
One and half years later Julia and I decided to visit their operation in Kurdistan, Iraq, not even a year after Tutapona had expanded there.
What kind of work did you do in Iraq?
I would not say that we did “work” in the traditional sense while we were there. Trauma counseling is a specialized form of work and though I have some training in clinical psychology and therapy I would need a good deal of time to be trained to Tutapona’s trauma recovery program. Rather, we went there to support and encourage Carl, his family, the Tutapona staff, and the refugees/IDPs in the program.
Trauma counseling can be emotionally draining work and it can often get very lonely being one of the few working hard to address such need. Having other people come out to see your work, encourage you, and return to share your stories with others is very important and needed. To this end Julia and I went to see with our own eyes the work and to speak affirmations into the lives of Tutapona and their local staff.
Where in Iraq were you working?
While we were in Iraq we stayed within Kurdistan. Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq, self governed by the Kurds. Within this region are many refugee and IDP camps. We stayed within the city of Dohuk where Carl and his family live. From there we traveled out to 3 different camps. The first was about 1 hour from Mosul located near the shore of Lake Mosul. This camp contains over 20k people with an additional 20k refugees/IDPs encamped around it, because the camp is too full. This was the primary camp that Tutapona operates within.
We also traveled out to several small refugee/IDP camps located 3 hours away within the northern city of Suron.
Finally we had a chance to see a newer refugee/IDP camp about half way between Dohuk and Irbil (The capital city of Kurdistan). This camp was recently created but is growing at enormous speed.
When most people think of Iraq they tend to think ruined cities, terrorists lurking in every corner and a vast expanse of desert as far as the eye can see. And camels. Lots and lots of camels. But what was it really like?
Yeah, I think the western conception of that region of the world is of a dystopian wasteland where everyone and everything is less human than ourselves. In fact, it was possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We traveled there in the spring and were met with lush green mountains, rolling hills, and some of the nicest, most genuine people. People like you and I, just trying to live. They all were just trying to raise and protect their families. They enjoyed going on walks and sitting in parks with one another. The city we were in was quite modern with neon signs, restaurants everywhere, even malls and movie theaters.
Though we did not see any camels we did see lots of sheep and goats lead by shepherds.
What do you think contributes to these stereotypes?
I think we don’t ever realize the humanness of those living in distant lands that we read about it papers. It’s not because we are bad people but just that it all seems so foreign and strange that we have difficulties ever thinking of those people dying and suffering as anything more than words and pictures in the news. When in truth those people experience the same emotions we do and are faced to deal with such horrific situations, living with the trauma of the loss.
What were the Kurdish people like?
First and foremost, the Kurdish people are just as human as you and I. Meaning that they experience all the same emotions and are capable of all the same deep interpersonal interactions that we are. We can often forget that when thinking about people in such far off places and cultures.
They are a very respectful people who are very quick to help one another out and support each other when there is need. So many of the people I met there were so sweet, loving, and kind. The Kurds of Iraq, in general, look favorably on Americans because America liberated them from Saddam Hussein who tried on many occasions to genocide the Kurdish people. So for us, we were often greeted with smiles when they found out we were “Americi” (There word for Americans). Usually when they found that out they would get excited and try to practice their English or take selfies with us. They love taking selfies with their phones over there. We saw it everywhere.
I realize that because I am American it might seem like I was treated special over there but I think the Kurdish people are very kind to most foreigners. In general they are an accepting society where Muslims, Christians, and Yazidi peoples all live at peace with one another. One part of a city might have a church another a mosque. One city in particular we stayed at had over 70% of its population were refugees from other countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria…
In short, they are a great group of people.
What was your favorite memory from your time with them?
My wife and I had the opportunity to sit in on the last trauma counseling class session for a women’s group lead by Tutapona. There were 15 to 20 Yazidi women there, of all age, who had all been captured at one point in the past 3 years by extremists. Every single one of them had family members still in captivity, many of them had been slaves to fighters and had witnessed their Fathers, sons, or brothers being murdered.
There trauma was so severe but sitting in the class I saw these women smile and laugh. I heard them express hope despite the weight of their situation and hurt. I saw them embrace each other is supporting friendship. I was told later on that some of these women had been so depressed that they had given up on life. They had stopped eating or taking care of their children because the trauma was so severe. Yet, with the help of Tutapona they could experience positive emotions again and start to find forgiveness and healing from the situation or even grow to become stronger, better people from the trauma.
It was amazing to behold and it will be a memory I carry with me the rest of my life.
What was the most challenging part about the work you did?
I think the story above was also the most challenging for me. When you sit down and look into the eyes of a person who has experienced what they have experienced you are faced with the reality of the situation. Then you realize that you are seated in camp filled with forty thousand more people who have experienced some variation of what this person has experienced… It is overwhelming. It is heartbreaking and it really rocks your world; just how evil some people can be and the things they can do to another human being. I came in contact with people who witnessed their father and brothers being beheaded, then they were captured and forced to have sex with multiple men, the same people who brutally murdered their family and made them watch. It is unreal to think about.
My heart broke and still breaks for all those who have suffered so much. It really puts into perspective just how good we have it and just how spoiled we can be when we think it is “suffering” to have to wait in line for more than a minute or two. The complaints we have when our bills are increased or are taxes get raised. It is a sobering to look into their eyes and see that we have no idea what it means to suffer. It is sobering.
You will be heading back this fall for a year long mission with them. What do you look forward to the most about it? What will be the hardest part about it?
I look forward to being a part of the solution. I look forward to going and helping the orphans of the world. To live by actions and faith rather than the American dream of self-success and self-focused life-style. I look forward to being a cog in the machinery that is helping thousands and thousands in two different countries, working with dozens of nationalities, find peace, joy, forgiveness, healing, and growth from and through their trauma.
The hardest part? Two things I can think of. The first is the spiritual and emotional toll that being around and working within such suffering can have on a person. We will need a lot of support and prayer to stay strong in many of the situations.
The second is financially supporting ourselves for the time that we are there. Year of no salary means we need to have a decent amount of money to rent, eat, drive, and work while we are there. Raising the funds in just 4 months is very difficult and requires a lot of energy and time on top of 40hr a week jobs.
If people want to support you guys and the work you are doing, how can they get involved?
There are a couple ways. You can seek us out on Facebook, become our friends, and support us with encouragement and by reading our updates.
Prayer and lots of it. There can and will be a lot of spiritual attack and we will need a lot of people praying for us to keep us strong.
And lastly would be financially. We need to raise a lot of money but it is money going towards the healing and redemptive work of trauma counseling that is changing the lives of thousands. You can donate at http://www.tutapona.com/donate . When you get to the actual donation page you can select Paul and Julia Andrighetti from a drop down menu on the right side.
Thank you, Jon, for this opportunity and interview!
You are most welcome, old friend. Safe Travels!
Thanks so much for your support, Jon!
As of July 13, 2017, Tutapona reported 523 people have now graduated from their trauma rehabilitation program in Iraq, and that they have seen an almost 70% reduction in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, please, if you can consider supporting this worthwhile endeavor.
Photo Credit: Julia Andrigetti, and Tutapona.