COVID-19 diaries in Uganda
Children speak out on what they do daily and what they miss most after school closure
When the COVID-19 pandemic was announced in Uganda in March 2020, closure of schools followed. The education of 15 million children was disrupted. Children spend majority of their time at home playing, helping their parents with chores, engaged in agriculture but also spare some hours a day to study. The education of children has been impacted, in urban areas, some children are relying on lessons available online, televisions and radios, while those in faraway/rural areas, fall back on their notebooks and printed learning materials provided by the Government with support from UNICEF.
In very remote districts such as Bundibugyo and Notoroko districts, children share their stories and what they miss most after their biggest support network -friends, who they are no longer in touch with. With lots of questions about tomorrow, these children are taking one day at a time.
14-Year-old Agnes Nguru sits at the entrance of her family home which also doubles as a shop. The family sells sweet bananas to earn a living. She patiently waits for customers to purchase the ripening bananas. A heap of 5 banana fingers costs 1,000 Uganda shillings, much less than a dollar. She targets patients from the health centre located right in front of their house, but the business is very slow.
If not for the COVID pandemic, Agnes would be in the classroom learning. Her story is not different from many other children who have been forced out of school due to the pandemic.
Agnes is a senior one student of Kakuka Hill Secondary School in Sindila Sub-County, Bundibugyo District. She has been home since her school was closed in March 2020 as a preventive measure to fight COVID-19 disease. “I miss school a lot. I miss my friends. We used to study together and play together. These days I spend the day digging and helping my mother to sell bananas and other food items here at home. I read at night from about 8:00pm to 9:00pm,” Agnes shares.
With a lot of hope, Agnes holds onto her dreams of becoming a teacher after her education. Today she remains hopeful that her school will be open very soon. To support continued learning of children, Ministry of Education and Sports with support from partners like UNICEF have printed and disseminated learning revision materials to benefit those is remote districts like Agnes. The materials are delivered to homesteads by local leaders and Agnes will soon receive hers too.
1O year old, Sharif Masereka, takes care of his one-year old young brother, as the mother goes to dig in the garden. “Sometimes she goes alone, and I stay with my brother at home.,” Sharif says.
Wherever he goes, his younger brother will be too. Young as he is, Sharif has to carry the brother around as he follows his peers to play. He is a child, so he continues to play.
Before his school was closed, Sharif was a primary three pupil of Mutiti Primary School in Sindia Sub-county in Bundibugyo District.
When asked why he was home, Sharifa responded, “I am home because we were told not to go to school because there is a disease called corona. Our teachers sent us home. I don’t know when we shall go back to school. I stay at home and sometimes I go to help my mother to dig. I miss playing with my friends in school. I don’t see my teachers these days.”
Sharif’s favorite game is football.
“I used to play football after class with friends at school,”
13-year-old Jackson Bwambale was attending primary seven pupil of Bulimba Primary school in Sindia Sub-county in Bundibugyo district.
“In March our teachers sent us home and that is the last time I was in school. They told us there is a disease called corona that can make us sick if we stay together in school,”
Jackson who loves English language wants to become a secondary school teacher.
Asked what he misses most about school he said” I miss my studies and my friends.
While waiting on the government to advise on when schools will reopen, Jackson continues to study from home especially at night after supper. During the day, he supports his parents with gardening. Unfortunately for him, his village has not yet received the printed learning materials provided by the Government. He relies on notes he compiled while at school, to continue learning.
Despite the delay, Jackson’s district is one of the many districts that have received printed learning materials provided and disseminated by the Ministry of Education and Sports with UNICEF support. Very soon he will receive the materials that will support his revision sessions.
This year Jackson hopes he will finish primary school level and transition to secondary but given the pandemic, he can only wait.
In Ntoroko District, another remote district in South Western Uganda, floods have displaced several families into makeshift shelters with tarpaulins that they now call home.
As if the impact of the coronavirus was not enough, the families are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the floods especially the children.
Kobusinge Masika, 12 years, stands outside their makeshift house in Rwangara village. Her family too was displaced. She lives with her Uncle and his family. Peeping through the window of their new house, she can see the water slowly approaching. This worries her. “Will they need to move again?”
Before the floods, Kobusinge was a primary four pupil at Bat Valley Primary school in Katanga village. She too had stopped school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our head teacher stopped us from going to school. We had not done tests for end of first term. He told us there is disease called corona that can kill people when they are together in one place.”
With no school, Masika spends most of her day playing with new friends in the Internally Displaced Person’s camp. There is hardly any room in the house for her to study. She remembers her best friend with whom she studied prior to the current situation. “After floods , I lost contact with her. I don’t know where she has gone with her parents.”
Masika longs to return to school when the water dries up and COVID-19 is gone and hopes to become a doctor. “My best subject is science. I want to go back to school and study hard. People here suffer a lot because of diseases,” said Masika.
“When I see my friends next, I will run and hug them.”
Following the initial assessment of the needs of the displaced persons, the district, with support from UNICEF and other partners are ensuring children are protected from any form of violence and abuse, have clean and safe water including sanitation facilities to avoid deadly diseases like cholera, and continuation of education. There has been emphasis on strengthening district systems to address the immediate and long-term needs of communities with focus on children and their families after disasters such as flooding and other emergencies.
Para social workers at village level and in the camps have been trained to provided psychosocial support to vulnerable children including identify, report and refer those affected by violence and abuse. These measures will enhance protection of children especially adolescent girls like Misika in her new temporary environment.