By the end of 2020 the Ugandan government had reported just over 32,000 cases of Covid-19 and 245 deaths. However, there are probably many other unreported cases. A national lockdown was ordered towards the end of March with schools and universities closed from March 20th.
Despite the easing of restrictions later in the year, schools and universities did not re-open until mid-October, and then only for students in examination years (the last year of primary school, the O and A level years, and the final year of university).
The government has now announced a return to school date for everyone of January 18th 2021. In the report below you can read about the support All Our Children has offered to our sponsored children and young people and their families during the time they have been out of school.
2020 Visit to Kabale
We were fortunate to have made our annual visit to Kabale in February and March, just before the pandemic led to lockdowns and travel restrictions. Our visit each year is a very important opportunity for us to monitor the effectiveness of our sponsorship programme and to spend time with and care for the children and young people we support.
By the end of our visit, we felt really encouraged by the good progress in school and the improved wellbeing of the majority of our sponsored children and young people. We saw that our policy of enrolling as many as possible into boarding schools had brought the benefits we had hoped for, i.e. both better educational achievement and better welfare.
By the 2020 academic year, we only had eight students in day schools. The other students (nearly forty) are in boarding schools where three meals a day are provided and supervised study is compulsory in the early mornings and evenings. In comparison, although our sponsorship includes lunch, day students often go to school without breakfast and may get nothing to eat at home in the evening. The families of our children do not have electricity and doing homework is very challenging when the only light provided is a paraffin candle. We aim to find sponsorship for the remaining eight day students.
Our trusted adviser, Atukunda Gertrude, travelled from Kampala to support us in monitoring the work that our partner in Kabale, Tushabomwe Patrick, undertakes on our behalf. Patrick and his team, including a young trainee doctor, Mutesasira Mark, support and care for our students and their families very well, pay school fees into the schools’ bank accounts for us, and are available to the headteachers in case of problems or illness involving any of our students.
During the visit, we also worked with teachers in eleven Kabale nursery, primary and secondary schools on the Community of Practice project we share with the Feilden Foundation. In past years we have worked on active teaching and learning and were pleased to observe good progress. This year our focus was on behaviour management and the abolition of corporal punishment. We engaged two inspirational Ugandan teacher trainers, passionate advocates of non-violent disciplinary methods in schools, who contributed to a very successful training session.
We left Kabale in mid-March feeling very positive about the progress of our sponsored children and young people, pleased with how they are being looked after, and optimistic about the benefits of the Community of Practice project for the experience they have at school.
You can read a full report of the visit here: https://www.allourchildren.co.uk/post/report-on-our-2020-visit-to-kabale
During the lockdown, public transport was severely curtailed and people were forbidden to work. Restrictions in border areas were even tighter; Kabale was subject to these as it is about 20 kilometres from the border with Rwanda.
In a country as poor as Uganda and without a welfare system, the problem of hunger soon emerged as the biggest threat to livelihoods, rather than the virus. For the children and young people we sponsor and their families, this was certainly the case.
Although the majority of families are subsistence farmers growing crops for food, the poorest families may not have a big enough plot or any land at all to produce enough food for their families to survive on. They need to supplement what they grow by buying maize flour to make the staple food of posho, and also other dry foods like beans and sugar. Without income during the lockdown, such purchases were not possible.
As we always provide some food for each family during school holidays so that our children do not go hungry when not being fed at school, Patrick and his team already had a system in place for buying large quantities of dry food, bagging it up for each family, and distributing it.
Since March, we have sent money on six occasions for food and for personal items like soap and sanitary protection for girls. This is how we used the money donated for scholastic fees in terms 2 and 3 of 2020 when schools and universities have remained closed.
Since 15th October, when students in “candidate classes” returned to school, we have paid school and university fees for them. We sponsor eight students in these classes. As all others are still out of school until 18th January, the start of the 2021 academic year, we are supporting them with food and personal hygiene items until that time.
In addition to the risk of families suffering from hunger, a new problem emerged when landlords demanded unpaid rent from the lockdown period when nobody could work. Several of our families risked eviction until we paid the arrears for them. One of our primary school children was living in a house which was falling down, so we paid for repairs.
As with the food, we have been able to do this from money donated for school fees but not spent during the schools’ closure. We judged that paying for food, rent arrears and the house repair was a good way to offer support to our families to relieve their suffering during the pandemic. They have expressed their deep gratitude.
As for what our children and young people have been doing since March, study has not featured very strongly. Some schools offered packages of learning materials and students were told to revise and learn work already covered. University students have had access to online course materials if they can pay for WiFi or use smartphones.
Most, however, have been looking after younger siblings and doing domestic chores like fetching water and wood, and working on the land to grow food. Some found paid work to support their families after the lockdown ended, digging land for other people, helping on construction sites, or working in nearby quarries to break up stones to make aggregate for road building.
At the moment, we do not know how schools will manage when their full cohorts return. We have seen class sizes of 80 and above in Kabale where social distancing would obviously be impossible and every dormitory we have visited has been packed, with some students even sharing beds.
We are aware in the UK of how much damage has been done to children’s learning and wellbeing, especially in disadvantaged communities, since the start of the pandemic. We will keep in close contact with Patrick to discuss any further help we can offer if students experience difficulties in settling back into education.
We are very grateful to all our loyal donors for their continuing support and for being there to ensure that our sponsored children and young people feel valued and encouraged in their aspirations, even in these challenging times.
Liz Walton OBE
Chair of Trustees of All Our Children