The world is full of uncertainty in the midst of this pandemic. Here in Jinja, Uganda, the situation has been changing daily, as it must be everywhere right now. The evening of March 18th, before there were any reported cases of COVID-19 in Uganda, President Museveni announced his first measures to prevent the spread of the virus to Uganda. Schools, religious gatherings, weddings, funerals, and any gatherings of more than 10 people were stopped for the next 32 days. Borders were also closed to prevent anyone from bringing the virus to Uganda. At HEAL Ministries, we have at least 220 people on property each day. Because of that and also because we have a preschool, we had to close the ministry for 32 days to abide by President Museveni’s orders.
We had one last day of work after the announcement to close everything up for (at least) one month. With an organization as big as ours, that is not an easy task. Thankfully, the management team is full of amazing talented staff members that stepped up to be sure everything got done. Caroline wrote letters to send home to parents and Prossy contacted the labor office to be sure we did everything according to the law. Christine took inventory of all the food we had remaining. Paul agreed to work overtime as our security guard during the time off. Aisha, Rebecca, and Barbara assured all of our preschoolers not to fear but to enjoy time at home with their families. Sylvia prepared the childcare department and made sure each child went home with a letter.
Running the James Place is always a team effort, but March 19th I saw the very best teamwork happening. I was so overwhelmed that day making sure that we didn’t forget anything. I was also worried about how our staff were going to manage being at home for at least one month, and how they would stay healthy if an outbreak came to Uganda. Our amazing intern Delaney noticed how anxious everyone was, and suggested that we spend some time in praise and worship after our staff meeting. So, after informing staff of our closure and advice of how to stay healthy during this time, we gathered together and sang songs of praise to our God of comfort. I teared up listening to our staff of resilient and strong women singing their hearts out to God.
I am so thankful that we had the money to buy food to send home with all 73 staff members. We bought some rice, beans, and other food to send home with each staff to help lift their burden of feeding their whole family during this time. When the James Place is open our staff receives a snack and lunch every day at work, and their children who are in school receive lunch. Therefore, with everything closed, parents have a bigger burden of trying to provide all 3 meals a day for their families. Several of our staff members spent a couple hours bagging up all the food to send home with staff at the end of the day. With that extra food plus their usual salary that they will still be receiving while we are closed, hopefully each family will be able to stay safe and have enough to eat.
Since President Museveni’s first protective measures, we have since gone into total lockdown. It was originally a 14 day lockdown, but it has been extended for another 3 weeks. The only places still open are banks, supermarkets, hospitals, pharmacies, and a few government offices. The only vehicles allowed on the road are cargo trucks, government vehicles, ambulances, and motorcycles that are allowed to deliver food but not carry any passengers. Our borders are closed. As of this morning, 7,693 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Uganda. Of those tested, 55 were positive. Almost all of the positive cases were people who came from abroad within 3 days of the borders closing, but a few are family members of those who came in from abroad. 12 of the 55 cases have already recovered and been released from the hospital. We have 0 deaths, and the government says that all of the patients are stable and responding well to treatment.
The Ugandan government is working extremely hard to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19. I am thankful for how serious they are taking this and how they are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the virus. Uganda is the leader in containing Ebola, and they have lots of experience in other infectious diseases as well, so they are not naive to the measures it takes to contain a disease. The CDC for Africa is based in Uganda, so that also helps! I have been very impressed with the ways the government is educating people on the virus as well as the extreme measures they are taking to contain the virus.
During the lockdown I have been staying at home and occasionally walking to work to check on the property. I have a trusted boda (motorcycle) driver who I send to buy me food if I need anything. I have been watching lots of episodes of “Friends” as well as working on a puzzle and reading books about how trauma effects our bodies. I have been able to facetime with family and friends as well as call friends here in Jinja to check in on one another. I cooked some chocolate chip cookies yesterday with a bag of chocolate chips that my friend brought from the States at Christmas. A little taste of home was SO nice! Trying to create a routine when there’s very little work to do and I’m at home all day has been difficult, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m soaking up some vitamin D in the sun each day as well as working out. We have at least 20 more days of this lockdown, but I am thankful that the lockdown appears to be working and an outbreak has not occurred yet. I am healthy and safe in my home here in Jinja, and I appreciate those of you who have checked in to be sure I am doing well! I hope all of you are hanging in there and staying safe as well.