Twelve years ago, Carl Gaede was a social worker with a nice house, two cars and two healthy daughters. He and his wife, Julie, also a social worker, lived just miles from the girls’ grandparents. Life was good. Then Gaede, 50, heard about Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army who used abducted children as soldiers. He felt called to respond and did so in a big way. In 2008, he moved his family to Uganda and, with Julie, founded the nonprofit Tutapona, Swahili for “we will be healed.” More than 50,000 victims of unspeakable trauma have begun to reclaim their lives thanks to Tutapona’s forgiveness model. He talks about work, faith and his first stateside office now open in Minnesota.
Q: Tell us about Tutapona’s mission (tutapona.com).
A: We’re a New Richmond, Wis.-based nonprofit that provides emotional healing to people affected by war. We are laser-focused on this one thing.
Q: Why the profound need for healing?
A: We are facing the worst of humanity, the most trauma you can imagine. In Uganda, we work with refugees from Congo where rape is systematically used as a weapon of war. Women are sold as property. Children are forced to do unspeakable things, sometimes even kill their parents with a stick so they don’t have a home to go back to. We come in the wake of the trauma to offer healing. In refugee camps in Uganda and Iraq, we often work with women and girls within days of their escape.
Q: Are people skeptical, or fearful, of your Western-influenced outreach?
A: We don’t call it counseling. We say, “We’ve got a group program designed to help people overcome obstacles.” The word gets out. Now we have a waiting list.
Q: Who’s on your team?
A: We use trained psychologists, indigenous facilitators and translators. Most of my staff speak six, seven, 10 languages. I don’t do the counseling. I’m the bridge, helping with the training and the ongoing supervision.
Q: What’s the format?
A: We offer group and one-on-one sessions over two weeks, for two to three hours at a time. We use psychology and stories. We help people understand the importance of forgiving to get people to acknowledge that they need to forgive to move on. Our program is based on biblical principles and best clinical practice.
Q: It seems fast to me, to expect people to embrace forgiveness. I’d think that would be a lifelong challenge.
A: From our own Western perspective, it is hard for us to understand. But I remember one man from Rwanda whose neighbor told people he was a Tutsi and they came to kill him. He survived and the two men ended up in the same refugee camp for 10 years. For all 10 years, he was plotting to kill the man who lied about him. But in the program he told us that he realized he needed to forgive if he were to get on with his life.
Q: Are you able to measure success in more than anecdotal ways?
A: We use a validated tool that measures symptoms of post traumatic stress from 0 to 68; a score above 20 is where clinicians get concerned. The refugees score, on average, a 43 at the start. Often, they have difficulty sleeping and taking care of their families. After the two-week program, these same people score an average of 18. They can begin to function in life.
Q: Most people ache when they learn about human suffering but tend to file it away. You didn’t file it away. What drives you?
A: After hearing about Kony, something inside of us broke. I was heartbroken that I didn’t know anything about it. I thought, “I’ve got to go there and see it for myself.”
Q: And you went.
A: My first trip was in 2006, with a small group. I wanted to see if there was a way we could help. People give money to organizations, donate food and clothing, and good things come from that. But as a social worker, I saw that no one was providing for their emotional needs, their mental health. I can’t build or fix anything. God had given me the education, experience and competency to do trauma counseling so I had a responsibility to use it for his glory where he called me.
Q: Is embracing the Christian faith required for those you help?
A: Absolutely not. We would never force or require anyone to embrace any faith. We very much have Christ as the center of what we do, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Q: How did your daughters react to this dramatic change of scene?
A: They were 8 and 4. We home-schooled them. As long as Mom and Dad were happy, they were happy. We’d say, “Look how lucky we are. Who else in Wisconsin gets to do this?” and they were like, “Yeah!” They loved it.
Q: You came home with more than two daughters.
A: Yes. We adopted our daughter Judith from Uganda. She’s now 23 and has a son, Elijah, 8. She works as a certified nursing assistant.
Q: In May, you opened a trauma rehabilitation center in St. Paul. Why here?
A: Minnesota has welcomed more than 100,000 refugees in the last 30 years. Many of them have fled from conflict areas. Trauma care allows people to start over from a place of hope.