In Uganda, the towns and streets are among the busiest of places I've ever seen. As I sit here at home imagining it now I can so clearly envision the dozens of cars, bikes and motorcycle taxis (aka boda bodas) whizzing past a multitude of people walking, visiting with friends, selling goods, and shopping for their everyday essentials.
As of today, conversely, the streets are an unfamiliar and empty sight.
Amidst the 14-day lock-down that President Museveni ordered, life is more challenging for Ugandans in both the large cities and rural villages. We asked our local staff living in Kampala (the capital city) and the town of Jinja (near many of our partnered villages) to explain how this lock-down has impacted their daily routines.
Mariah, one of our Primary Sponsorship Coordinators, explained how awful the situation was - especially for pregnant women. She and her sister (who is 35 weeks pregnant) both had to walk 3 hours in order to find a market open to purchase food. As the restrictions continue and get stricter, whatever small supplies they happened to have at home - which is very little when compared to many of us in the US - now have to be restocked. They live each day with the uncertainty of knowing when the restrictions will be loosened up or if they’ll become stricter. The greatest fear for her family and many others is that when a woman goes into labor, there is no transport available to take them to the hospital for a safe delivery. Ambulances are few and far between and many have to be bribed in order for them to help you. It would appear that in this time of disarray, desperate people are putting their morals aside in the short term in order to ensure their well-being remains intact.
Majorine, another one of our Primary Sponsorship Coordinators, explained that the people are banned from moving around, even walking outside for leisure, yet they were not given enough time to prepare and purchase food or other supplies. This leaves the citizens in a food crisis as the majority work hand-to-mouth daily. To make matters worse, people who work in the marketplaces are not allowed to go back home until the 14-day lock-down is over - essentially a quarantine at their places of work. This means that many sellers are left to sleep with their crops and goods on the streets.
“We also have a curfew,“ she explained. “Everyone has to be in their house by 7 pm and the army is strictly enforcing the curfew.” While the president recently declared during his address to the country for the police and army to refrain from physically attacking people, many are still being treated in the hospitals because they have been hit.
Because many people are lacking food to eat, the government has started giving out posho (a dish made from cornmeal) and beans. However, not all districts and homes are getting the supplies. The primary focus has been to distribute these supplies to the urban suburbs of Kampala which holds many vulnerable families; outlying villages have not received anything yet.
Mariah further voiced her concern to us by saying, “My heart is with the families in our Hearts & Hope villages who live in rented houses with no gardens to grow food for home consumption. Some parents in these villages depend on casual laboring each day and the people who are supposed to pay them for their services are no longer working. This means they can’t earn money to buy food for their families. Moreover, those with gardens of food can’t share much with others because they’re afraid of running out of food."
In Uganda, it seems lives could be impacted highly by the effects of this lock-down even MORE than the spread of COVID-19 itself. Hearts & Hope will continue to gather information on ways we can help those in our communities who are most susceptible to a food shortage.
We also continue to pray for all those who are struggling to provide for their families in the US and who share in this distress. Lastly, we remain hopeful in the future and we put our trust in God during this Easter season that this cup will pass us soon and we will become even more appreciative of the little pleasures in daily life that we once took for granted.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.