Amidst COVID-19, we hope you are well: safe, and sound at home. Healthy, washing your hands, and hopefully still with a source of income. We are Amuno Rural Hub, a youth-led indigenous organization in Kachumbala, Bukedea district found in the eastern part of Uganda, like every other place in the country and in the world, is being affected by the Corona crisis in one way or another. Up until now, Uganda at large has several confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which a good percentage of people have recovered and none have died. Maybe this is because of Uganda’s extremely young population (the average age here is 16 years old), maybe it’s because of the warm climate, but one thing is for sure: the government’s measures play an undeniably big part. The whole of Uganda has been in lockdown for the past months. But what happens when you lock down a country in which most people live from hand to mouth and are completely dependent on their daily earnings?
First things first – Uganda. Where is that exactly? Uganda is a landlocked country in Eastern Africa, proudly nicknamed ‘The Pearl of Africa’. It’s green and extremely fertile: you could stick a dead branch in the ground and a tree will grow from it, so to speak. In the southwestern part of the country, you can find dense jungles housing the famous and rare mountain gorillas, volcanoes, and the fifth deepest lake in the world with 29 islands. On top of that, you can climb the third highest mountain in Africa, face the rapids of the river Nile or take a shower in one of the country’s amazing waterfalls. Uganda is home to 56 different ethnic groups, each with its own language, musical sounds, and dance movements. And last but not least: the opulent city of Kampala. On the shores of Lake Victoria, bustling with creativity and a vibrant nightlife that never goes to sleep, Kampala has also been crowned ‘The Party Capital of East Africa’. Pretty cool place, right? We think so too.
For developed countries, it’s relatively easy to handle the lock-down that has been implemented in Uganda. They’ve their computers, fast internet, and online systems, so they still have some form of income, and they are able to work from home. Sadly, this is not the reality for many Ugandan citizens, whose daily meals are dependent on the cash that they make that very same day. When that bit of cash disappears, how will you feed yourself? Or even worse: your children? In these times, solidarity is more important than ever before. That’s why we are calling out for help from anyone who has something they can miss: that something might just help a Ugandan household through the lock-down.
Lock-down in Uganda: what does it mean?
A couple of months ago, Uganda went on lock-down, which has been extended until further notice. A lock-down in Uganda looks as follows:
- The borders and airports are closed for all travelers. This mostly affects the tourism sector in Uganda (plus all the hotel/airport/tour agency employees). Tourism has been the leading foreign exchange earner and provided many Ugandans with an income before the Corona crisis hit.
- There is currently no public or private transport allowed unless it’s to carry cargo. This is to prevent people from moving through the city and to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, but mostly out of the city: back to the villages, where people are mostly able to live off of the fertile land.
- All ‘non-essential’ shops have been closed down for the foreseeable future.
- There is a 7 PM curfew. Only essential workers are allowed out on the street in the evenings.
- Workers in factories, on building sites, or sellers at food markets have to sleep on location and are not allowed to go home.
What exactly is the effect of this lock-down?
- 21% of people in Uganda live below the poverty line and struggle under normal circumstances.
- Many people in Uganda may live just above the poverty line but live ‘hand to mouth’. They live from the money they earned that same day. Think of public transport drivers, market-sellers, little shop-owners, local restaurants, hair salons, or street food stands. With the lock-down being implemented, most of these people instantly lost their only source of income.
- In addition, teachers, people working in the tourism sector, entrepreneurs, and artists lose their income. Though some are being supported by the government or have savings, most of them don’t.
- Ugandan women on average give birth to 5 children, which puts a lot of strain on parents during a lock-down like this.
Many European countries support their unemployed citizens with government funding. What’s the plan of the Ugandan government? Next to an indoor exercise instruction video, President Museveni supports vulnerable people by handing out basic food packages. However, this distribution is very limited, and the plan does not seem solid. Anyone who tries to help others by distributing food risks getting arrested and being charged with attempted murder.
How to help?
Many Ugandans are dedicated to helping out their fellow humans. Given our experience and work in different communities, we developed a big network throughout different neighborhoods in society. During the past weeks, we witnessed the direct effects of the lock-down unfold and decided to take action. Through their local and international network, we were able to raise $2200, which we used to buy and deliver basic packages to be used during the lock-down, existing of posho flour (a kind of maize flour), rice, beans, and soap. Up until now, they have been able to help out 110 households.
Up till now, that is. Our work became incredibly difficult now that distributing food has become illegal and the money pot they had been able to fill through donations has reached its bottom. So, we decided to change the game. A simple solution: money transfers! For many Europeans or US citizens, this is not a new concept.
Our strategy was and is very simple, efficient, and as follows.
- We got contacts throughout our big network in Uganda of people who aren’t able to provide for themselves during the lock-down. We put these households on a list.
- We transfer money from this fundraiser directly to the households on this list through a mobile money service. The households receive a weekly amount on their phone to buy essentials until they are able to go back to work (after the lock-down ends).
- There is no middleman cutting out money. Even the mobile money provider made money transfers free during COVID-19, to stimulate people to pay digitally instead of paying for goods and services with cash money.
- One household with an average of 5 people would need:
- 5 kg rice – $5.30
- 5 kg beans – $5
- 5 kg posho flour – $2,90
- 5 kg sugar – $5.30
- 1 big bar of soap – $0,40
- 2 sachets of salt – $1,40
- Cooking oil – $0,80
- We transfer around 100.000 Ugandan shillings to every household without an income that they are able to reach. This is only 25$ and would support one household with food – hopefully until the lock-down is lifted.
The COVID-19 crisis is affecting the entire globe. Many people are starting to lose their sense of time. Your nice shoes are molding away, buried deep inside your closet. Many people have lost their jobs. For some that means skipping your holiday to Thailand this summer, for others, it can mean losing your house, or not being able to provide your kids with any food (and nope, there is not such a thing as a food bank.) Do you still have an income? And do you still have some extra money to spare? Then this is the time – now more than ever – to help out your fellow human beings, especially in countries where people aren’t privileged enough to receive government funding. Every dollar counts and will contribute to helping out Ugandan families in need!