Original Articles

“It can save you if you just forget”: Closeness and Competence as Conditions for Coping among Ugandan Orphans

Published in: Journal of Psychology in Africa
Volume 18, issue 3, 2008 , pages: 445–455
DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2008.10820221
Author(s): Krister Westlye FjermestadUniversity of Bergen, Norway, Ingrid KvestadNational Child Protection Services, Norway, Marguerite DanielUniversity of Bergen, Norway, Gro Th. LieUniversity of Bergen, Norway


This article explores the coping strategies of orphaned children and their caregivers supported by a community-based organization in a Ugandan slum area. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with eight orphans (aged 12 to 16 years) and their caregivers selected by the community-based organization. The children had experienced several co-occurring risk factors such as loss and separation, poverty, disease, and an unsafe environment. Most caregivers were extended family members. One caregiver was an unrelated foster carer. Three of the households were child-headed. Data were analysed using an adapted approach of Giorgio's (Hafting, 1995; Malterud, 2001) psychological-phenomenological method. Participating children from child-headed households lacked protective factors associated with closeness (i.e., supportive dyadic relationships). All the children in the study experienced competence in the arenas of school and household chores. Cultural advice on handling adversity, including ‘forgetting’, ‘accepting’ and ‘adjusting’, appears to contradict Western theories of coping. Sommerschild's theoretical model on the conditions for coping was effective in identifying conditions in children's lives that may impair their coping, self-worth, and resilience.

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