Mim Friday, Viva’s Africa Director, reflects openly on more than 200 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda, and describes how Viva and our partner network, CRANE, are responding in new ways to the many needs of vulnerable children in Kampala to keep more of them safe from harm.
The moment one COVID-19 case was reported in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni sent children home from school, and prepared to address the country again a few days later.
What few people knew was the element of surprise to lock the country down hard and fast within 30 minutes of his Presidential ruling!
Many people who were still winding their way home parked wherever they were, rushed into the nearest shop, loaded up with what they could grab, and rushed home as fast as they could. And there they stayed for the next three months.
Some 200 days later and 1.2 million final year students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions are now returning to school to pack a year’s learning into half a year. Around 13.8 million children will remain at home until May 2021, if all goes to plan… but what goes to plan in this year of 2020?
CRANE’s 193 schools, churches, and non-governmental organisations supported at least 99,572 children on a regular basis throughout 2019.
The impact of lockdown has pushed CRANE’s boundaries to the limit, to each any and all children that they could reach.
Faith Kembabazi, CRANE’s Director, took just two weeks to convince the authorities that CRANE was providing an emergency service and requested that some of her vehicles got moving again.
Whatever could be done has been done.
Children were rushed to hospital. Medication and emergency food packages were delivered to hundreds of vulnerable families.
190 children who were living on the streets were quarantined for weeks, counselled and restored back to their families or taken to vocational training schools.
Hundreds and hundreds of child protection cases have been handled. Learning materials were delivered to thousands of homes.
Thousands of families have been called to let them know there is help available, and to give over-the-phone lessons to children who have no access to remote learning. TV and radio broadcasts were recorded.
The Studio has never been busier, producing materials for adult training and child engagement. Faith’s fast action has no doubt saved many lives and helped thousands of families through immensely difficult times.
Faith’s fast action has no doubt saved many lives and helped thousands of families through immensely difficult times.
The dark cloud of lockdown will remain with some for life.
We have heard of one boy with severe disabilities who was sent home to the village to be cared for, but the family in the village did not know how to care for him, and he died of bed sores.
Another mother carried her epileptic child to the hospital, having failed to access medication in any other way. The child died on the way.
Questions will remain in the minds of many parents, some very close to us, who have lost their children in the last six months, not to COVID-19, but quite possibly aggravated by the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus. This might be termed, “unintended consequences”.
But what about the children who are suffering because of wilful abuse from adults? Was school or church the place of safety for them, and then lockdown put them in danger night and day? Or did the stress of a lack of income, loss of a job, hunger, or something, cause the adults to crack?
CRANE was recently asked by the police to help pay for medical treatment for a young girl. ‘Sharon’ was at home when her mother accused her of stealing money from her bag. ‘Sharon’ denied the accusation.
That triggered the mother and the auntie to beat ‘Sharon’ as they stripped her. ‘Sharon’ ran away naked. The auntie began screaming behind her, “Thief! Thief! Thief!” That is a very dangerous thing to do!
A man grabbed ‘Sharon’, poured alcohol on her hands, got a match box and burnt both her hands. Neighbours came to Sharon’s rescue whilst the mother and that man took off.
The mother is now in custody, charged with aggravated torture. The police are still searching for the man and the auntie.
‘Sharon’ is currently being cared for by a loving family in the community as they search for a new home for her.
I wish I could stop every case of abuse, but I can’t.
I can give ideas for what could be done to give children life opportunities. I can edit and write reports.
I can review finances, sign cheques, write proposals, make training videos, buy ice cream to encourage staff in their daily tasks, search for people who can pray for us and encourage us.
Sometimes… often… it feels like it is not enough.
That is why we need to work together for children. We need every child in a safe family, a safe school, and a safe community.
COVID-19 has made our work more urgent and more difficult. We still cannot get to all the children. We are not allowed to gather them in one place.
We can’t do group trainings with parents, and most do not have the time or knowledge to access all the virtual support that might be available to them.
So we have to change. We have to try new things.
We have to press on, because there should never be another ‘Sharon’, anywhere, ever.
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