By Judith, a child registered under World Vision's sponsorship programme
When Uganda was locked down in March due to COVID-19, 15 million schoolchildren were affected. Many of these children are vulnerable. Judith, 13, is one of these children. She shares her experience in the following letter*.
"My name is Judith. I live in Busia District, Eastern Uganda. My village borders Kenya. I am 13 years old, and in primary seven which is a final class before I graduate to high school. We are four children and I am the last born and the only girl. My parents separated when I was in primary two. So, we were staying with my father. But two years ago my father was arrested and jailed in Kenya. To date, we don’t know the reason for his arrest and imprisonment. With our mother away and father in jail, we had to take care of ourselves.
When we started hearing about COVID-19, we didn’t care much because it all seemed like some dream far away. Soon, we started hearing stories of people suffering and dying. I was scared. I imagined how life would be if the virus reached Uganda. The biggest question on my mind was ‘if people in developed countries were dying, who would save us in Uganda?’
In no time, the disease was nearer to us. We heard of cases in neighbouring Kenya, which is a stone's throw away. To make the matter worse, we have relatives living in Kenya. Now, this was neither a dream nor a bad joke. I could not settle down as we were terribly scared.
When the nationwide lockdown was announced by the President on 18th March 2020 to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, I knew it was bad news. Everything and everyone was stopped except essential staff like health workers. Days, weeks and months passed and there was no change. The people dying from this new virus continued to grow by each hour. In Uganda, schools and places of worship were closed. They are still closed even today. Every day I prayed to hope that one day the sun will rise and schools will be opened. This is because in my village the situation was getting from worse to worst by each passing day. Young girls my age were getting pregnant and others married off by their parents because of poverty. Presently, many parents are not working. Some lost their jobs and for others, their businesses collapsed because of COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many parents are failing to provide for their families. Many parents who were involved in border trade are just seated at home not engaged in any other income activity as the border is still closed.
In our own case, life became hard. Some days, we went without food. My brothers just gave up trying for fear of contracting COVID-19 or getting arrested for violating the health guidelines. We were left to fate. I cried endlessly remembering how much our parents used to take care of us when they were together. With time I forgot about reading my books. As the only girl, I bore the brunt of looking for what to eat for my siblings. I would sit at home and think of how we could get through this bad situation. I started wondering why I was born only to be abandoned by my mother and my father imprisoned in a foreign country. Now, education was the only hope for the future but now all schools were closed. I lost hope.
Amidst all sorrows, I never gave up my faith in God. I continued praying to God for intervention in our lives. I prayed to God to protect our country Uganda. One evening, I was seated home when a reading club facilitator told me about World Vision’s programme of home-based learning. For me, that was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. God was starting to answer my prayers. With all hopes gone, this seemed a dream but it was a reality - a dream come true. I was very happy when we started studying at home. At one point I felt like my heart was coming out of my chest. Finally, the dark clouds had gone and now my sky was clear. Although everyone is scared of the monster that is COVID-19, World Vision has not stopped supporting the most vulnerable children like me in these dangerous times. They are helping children in my community to continue learning from home while observing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands with soap.
Personally, the reading club has helped me to improve on my reading, writing and counting. It has also helped me to have the chance of interacting with teachers directly during this lockdown. I have learnt new ideas, understood questions in all subjects and I feel like I have gained back my hope in education and the future. It has helped children, parents, and the entire community to know that learning can continue even if schools are closed. With this support, I feel prepared and ready to sit for my final PLE (primary leaving examination) at any time. I am confident I will pass to the next grade. I hope all children can continue their schooling at home.
With much respect and pleasure, I thank my reading club facilitator for teaching and helping me with my studies. I also thank World Vision for getting teachers to support us with home-based learning, providing us with reading materials and teaching us how to stay safe from COVID-19. Finally, I would also like to thank the sponsors who have given their money to see that our schools are built, we have books, clean water and a good learning environment. May the Lord bless you.
*This letter been translated and edited for publishing.