Covid did not kill with disease, but it destroyed lives
It has taken me some time to even be able to sit down and put my heart onto this blog. It's been difficult to re-imagine where we are and where we are going after my March trip with co-founder, Jen Kovach, to our beloved school in Uganda. It took me months to emotionally recover from that trip. My heart and soul had such a difficult time wrapping my head around so much suffering and our program being reduced to a skeleton of what we once had developed over the last 12 years.
Covid spared the village of Bukibokolo, so we did not lose any students to the disease itself. This is in part due to the very strict shutdowns imposed by the Ugandan government. Month after month, people were ordered to stay at home. Those in cities honestly suffered more originally than villagers. Many in the cities do not have gardens or have very small plots, so when the food ran out people died of starvation. Stores were closed, and if you tried to go seek food you could be shot and killed. It was unlike anything you can imagine in the USA. Westerners living there were evacuated under extremely dangerous circumstances, they even feared being killed for traveling to the airport when the government ordered zero travel. Their taxi drivers were also at risk for disobeying orders to not drive. It must have felt apocalyptic to so many. The photo below is not mine; it was taken off of Facebook published by a Ugandan local. It shows more than my words can adequately describe.
The villagers slowly suffered the effects of covid's shutdowns in addition to the natural barriers and hardships that they always face. First the schools were shut down and we were not allowed to congregate or to serve any food to anyone. Moses miraculously was given the authority to open our school for an emergency food distribution program. To our knowledge we were the only school to have this freedom in Uganda! Our staff coordinated weekly dry food distribution of beans and posho and kids came to pick up the ration each week. The cost was more than we had budgeted as the cost of food rose to an incredible amount during shut down. Plus, everything had to be shipped by truck up the mountain from the city below, which in itself was a feat due to no driving allowed and the cost of petrol (gas). But every month our donors rose to the challenge, and we were able to send home food for over a year to families who would have died without the help.
Over time, gardens dried up and went dormant. There was an order not to transport anything, so seeds were now unavailable, and many did not have any seeds for planting season. There was also no fertilizer other than local, and no pesticides to keep the bugs from eating the little that grew. That accompanied by a terrible growing season with too much and too little rain at the worst times possible made nearly all crops fail. There is also the issue of ongoing plant diseases that have made growing even bananas a challenge. Some families lost homes and land and animals to landslides. Even our chicken project that had supplied the school with eggs had to be cancelled due to no feed available and the little feed that was found was too expensive to buy. Families who had one meal a day now shared a potato between 3 family members. Some only ate twice a week to avoid death. Mama's went without for the sake of their kids. If you did not have a child in our school, there was no aid for you. Nothing. The government there did not provide anything for these people. There are no food shelves, no food subsidies, no help. Some families who had kept animals to breed and sell had to slaughter what they had because there was no food for the animals.
The ban on travel and on school went on and off for nearly two years. No sooner did the government lift the ban on schools, they quickly reclosed due to spreading disease. Then Ebola hit Uganda and the travel and school bans started again. It was never ending and without tv or news, many villagers relied on word of mouth for information on if and when this would ever end. Our food distribution program continued and again you all saved so many lives.
Finally, as soon as the bans were lifted many families felt it was time to quickly flee the village to try to find food and work in the cities. This was the beginning of 2023. Families of course did not know if covid or Ebola would shut things down again, so they saw a chance to save their families and they moved. Some families returned because life was no easier in the city as so many from all villages across Uganda had the same idea. Some have not returned, but we have no way to know how they are or where they are. Among those is a girl my family sponsored for 7 years. All we can do is pray for her now.
Jen Kovach and I visited in March and discovered that over 50 sponsored kids had left. We set up a plan for the staff to try to track down as many as possible. Some returned and some they could not located. Now, every month we are notified of more kids moving, the latest victims of the fallout from Covid. Every month I set out to notify sponsors of this sad news, praying that they will sponsor another child or continue to support the organization because we have a budget that is not fully covering our needs for those who remain.
I have worked hard to lower and eliminate any expenses to keep the doors of the schools open. We have lost teachers due to the government raising wages and our inability to pay what they do. In both August and September, I personally gave up $1000 of my pay (I work two jobs to survive and have started a third) to put toward the needs on the ground in Uganda. I cannot do this ongoing, but I also cannot imagine the school closing after all we have built.
I say this only because I feel that transparency is essential. Every time a donor leaves, we are on the verge of collapse. I am working diligently to establish relationships in Georgia so that we can gain more support but for right now we are dangerously close to falling apart. This is the reality of the fall out of Covid. I cannot believe that we were just a few years ago one of the best schools in the Nation and now we are barely surviving.
But, I truly believe that God did not start this school only to let it fall apart. I believe that there is something great on the horizon and that God is going to redeem all we lost and bless us with more than enough so we can continue reaching the kids and families for HIS GLORY. This year we will graduate the first class from our high school. 34 students, our first Army of world changers. One of my hopes is that one or two of these graduates will be hired to work as our on the ground sponsorship coordinators, something we so desperately need. The future is bright and I am on my knees seeking God for direction and help.
I do invite any ideas you have to help bring us back into a healthy financial situation. We look forward to Being a part of a Women's Conference in November and we are seeking a place to hold a Christmas Tea fundraiser in Thomasville, Ga. I am so grateful for all of our supporters and for those who pray for us and our staff and kids! Thank you for loving the least of these and for staying with us when life was so uncertain.
Jenn is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of
Hands of Action International. To connect with
her or to learn more about the work of Hands of
Action please email: email@example.com
or go to our website at www.handsofactioninternational.org