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  • Mike Warneke

The Vulnerability of Uganda in the COVID-19 Pandemic

In February and early March of this year, I spent three of the most hope-filled weeks of my life in Uganda. We saw significant changes taking place in Gulu and Kampala, and true cultural change was happening. I arrived back from Uganda on March 10th to an ever changing world.

This COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in different ways, and our hearts go out to all of you that have lost jobs, a steady source of income and connection to your loved ones. We are doing our best as staff members and board members to address our own work in Uganda while trying not to be insensitive to the needs of so many in our communities during this time. Below are a few updates on how Uganda is handling this situation, and in turn how we as an organization are attempting to respond.

As of today, April 1st, there are 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country of Uganda, a majority of those are from a choir that returned from the UK but are being safely quarantined. In an impoverished nation like Uganda, the drastic measures the government is taking are putting the poorest of the poor at high risk.

To quote a local pastor in the Kampala region: "We have also been advised by the medical professionals to exercise social distancing, not to shake hands, not to hug, not to touch the soft parts of our bodies like the eyes, and face, and to wash our hands constantly with soap or hand sanitizers."

In Uganda, the reality is that we have a large part of our population that lives from hand to mouth, and they cannot afford a hand sanitizer, much less a bar of soap.

With the current ban on all public means of transport, the majority of these people have lost their means of livelihood and are not able to make ends meet. More people are at a risk of dying of hunger than even of the novel coronavirus.

Uganda has now placed a ban on all private and public transportation, making foot traffic the only way for our staff and families needing food and/or medicines to get around. There is a curfew for the next 14 days from 7 PM to 6 AM, and all businesses other than food stores and medical facilities have been forced to close for this same 14-day span. The fear is real -- and not necessarily of the coronavirus itself -- but of the scarcity of food, the price increases for all basic needs, and for so many families that live day to day, for their simple survival. The true fear of starvation is somethings that so many of the families we serve will be facing.

The image to the right shows the very empty streets of Kampala midday on Tuesday, March 31st as our National Director walked 12 miles to our bank to ensure that our staff were all paid their salaries. We are doing our best as an organization to take care of our staff. They are all primarily at home planning for their jobs when life, hopefully one day soon, returns to normal. We are busy brainstorming ways on how to assist our beneficiaries and their families during these trying times.

Our mission as an organization is to provide hope, empowerment and a future to the vulnerable children of Uganda through the vehicles of soccer and education. We most likely will be meeting very different needs in the weeks and months to come.

One of FoDU's core values is sustainability, but we know that emergency relief in the form of feeding the families that we support will have to supersede our mission, as we will be focusing on the survival of our beneficiaries and their families as this pandemic continues. We have plans of providing emergency food relief buckets, but are now trying to navigate the fact that all transport has been prohibited. Each bucket will consist of soap, bread, sugar and maize flour.

These are frightening times, and there continue to be so many unknowns moving forward. For the last nine years I have had the frightening joy of leading Fields of Dreams Uganda through both prosperous and desolate times. We have always stated that "hope is a basic need," even more so than food, education, or security. And I believe that with all of my heart, we need hope, perhaps now more than ever. Hope in eternity, but also hope in tomorrow. Don't lose hope, and don't give up.

Thank you for walking with us as an organization during these uncharted times.

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