I thought that you would all appreciate an update on life in Jinja, as so many people have messaged to ask what is happening there during these difficult times.
We approached the end of the spring term with great optimism and hope. The Twinkle dormitories were all ready, and the children moved in. We were at the point of getting solar power installed, which would change the lives of the children and staff.
Great Hope just had a new kitchen built, repairs to school after the heavy rains were completed and we were serving porridge every day to all the children.
All the schools had their results for the last end of year and reported good upward trend in all subjects. School assessments for the nursery children in all schools were taking place, and all was going well.
Then reports of a new virus causing a worldwide epidemic (not yet a pandemic) made us rethink a few things. Although Covid-19 was yet to cause real disruption to the UK, let alone reach Uganda, we decided now might be a good time to instill some extra health and welfare lessons.
At this stage the emphasis was on hygiene, hand washing and distancing if you were unwell.
We made sure all the contractors on any of our sites followed safe practices and also understood the importance of it.
As a precaution both Son Rise and Mama Jane orphanages were provided with plenty of mosquito nets. Malaria is serious enough without an extra virus attack. They were also visited by Pauline.
This all seemed sensible and Lorna, who was planning to be back in the UK for Easter brought her trip forward a week as things started to get serious.
Uganda got its first case of Covid-19 after a Ugandan national brought it back from a trip to Dubai. This subsequently spread through his family, and others on that trip had symptoms too. President Museveni ordered the country to practice social distancing, wash hands well and to not travel much. Schools and non-essential shops were closed. He was also going to close Entebbe Airport the next night.
This meant a frantic few hours to get Lorna out and back to the UK. We feared for her safety during a lockdown more than the fear of catching Covid. Luckily she got out on one of the last flights and is safely back.
We made sure the orphanages had plenty of food, all the JET staff were paid in advance and the schools are locked and secured. Not before time as with 45 confirmed cases the president ordered a total lockdown with no one allowed to use cars or go out except to buy food. In a country where food is scarce for many and medicine not available these are frightening times.
We have had to think on our feet and react quickly to these rapidly changing circumstances.
The next steps
We have been in constant contact with Nelly and Ezra who are bravely keeping everything going in Jinja. They contact the Headteachers every few days to discuss what a return to school will look like and how they see it being managed. The challenges they see in a phased return to school and managing parental fears and expectations.
The immediate response:
- Many teachers could not get home before lockdown so are stranded at school. They have no pay, they are paid from school fees, so no food or supplies. We estimate about 50 teachers are either unable to get home or are in Jinja but with no financial support.
- We are aiming to provide study packs for during lockdown. These are provided by the government but need a lot of support to be effective. The headteachers will help with this but we have to find a way to distribute them without vehicles being used!
- We are acutely aware that many of our schoolchildren who, are already living in poverty, may now be unable to access food, clean water or any sort of medical help.
Once lockdown is lifted and school resumes:
- When the children and teachers return to school they will need proper nutrition, emotional, educational and welfare support.
- We will have to provide a nutritious meal every day.
- We may need additional support staff, councilors, and medical staff during this phase.
- We will need to make sure all the schools are thoroughly cleaned and extra hand washing stations positioned around school.
- We need to provide a room for children who are unwell to stay away from others until they can go home.
- Classrooms may have to be repainted and restocked with exercise books, pens and pencils, which the children normally provide themselves. It is unlikely they will have any spare funds for such luxuries.
- A lot of time must be dedicated to contacting and educating parents, to reassure them that the children will be safe and well cared for at school.
All JET staff are safely with their families and in constant contact with Lorna and myself. Thank goodness for Whats App!
We are monitoring the situation daily and hoping that the situation there doesn’t escalate to a dangerous level. All our visits are postponed for the foreseeable future but we look forward to a time when we can be together again. The wonderful people there need our support and help more than ever now. Please keep all of them in your thoughts.
All the very best to you all. Keep well and safe .
Sue and all at JET