the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Crazy few days

on March 23, 2020

We rushed back from Bidibidi refugee settlement to the main town in Yumbe, Uganda on Wednesday 18 March to listen to President Museveni’s address. It had been a busy day  at the settlement where I delivered activities to parents of village 15 and 13. The sessions were particularly enjoyable. I distributed loops of string so that we could share string figures. The purpose was to allow refugee parents to reconnect with their cultural traditions in order to build psychosocial wellbeing. I also taught the English string figure ‘cup of tea’ so that we could reflect on the challenges of undertaking new learning for adults and for young children.  It isn’t easy teaching a string figure to a group of over one hundred participants so I relied on parents who grasped the process quickly to be able to help others. The session was an amazing success. Discussion focused on how we learn best and we talked about observing demonstrations, listening to instructions, following illustrated guidance contained in handouts, having one-to-one support and how moving our muscles can help us to learn. We then related this to children’s learning and how parents can best support learning in the home. Women in the group ululated when participants showed string figures they knew and I felt everyone went away from the session having learnt something. I had four further sessions to deliver that week, so I was looking forward to more positive experiences, but first we needed to know what President Museveni had planned in response to Covid19.

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There was the usual power shortage in Yumbe, so my colleagues and I went to a cafe with solar power in order to watch the address on television. The restrictions announced weren’t exactly a surprise, but the email I received during the speech was. My flight home had already been brought forward from 2 April to 26 March and now there was new advice from VSO Uganda to take the Emirates flight to Gatwick leaving on 20 March. That meant I had to start packing for departure to Kampala the next morning in order to catch the flight the following day.

So that’s what happened. Yumbe to Kampala is over 600km and the road is unsealed for the first part of the journey. I said goodbye to my colleagues at the office in the morning, then set off.

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I arrived in Kampala at 8pm, just in time to grab some dinner at the hotel then head off to bed. I got up early the following morning to complete a couple of reports and finish my work. One of the achievements of my placement involved collecting information on young children with disabilities living in the seven villages with Early Childhood Care and Education centres in Zone 3. With the database complete, I shared it with other NGOs to allow staff to follow up with medical and/or educational assessments. A replacement for my role at Bidibidi has been appointed and the database will also be useful to offer targeted provision to children and families in need of psychosocial support and parenting help.

The next job involved returning IT equipment to the VSO office and withdrawing the balance from my mobile money account. There was over two million shillings (about £400) because I had intended visiting Jinja before returning to the UK. I wanted to see the source of the Nile and make a few purchases to bring home. That wasn’t to be, so instead I changed the money into pounds. And then before I knew it, I was heading for the airport. Fortunately, I was accompanied by two friends on my flight to Dubai then we had connections to different destinations. We spent a couple of hours in transit, drinking at a cafe and reflecting on the next opportunity we would be able to enjoy such socialising.

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It was splendid to have the weekend with my family but weird to be back after such an abrupt departure. Since I got home it was announced that Entebbe International airport would be closed to all flights from midnight on Saturday 21 March. It seems I was fortunate to get home and all thanks to VSO Uganda for their prompt action. And now I’m coming to terms with social distancing. Rather a shock after the freedoms I enjoyed in Uganda last week.

And then further news from Uganda came.  The first case of Covid19 was confirmed on Sunday 22 March. The Ugandan passenger arrived from Dubai with symptoms and was taken to Entebbe Hospital. While I hope Uganda can prevent the spread of this virus, I remain concerned about the consequences for marginalised communities that are ill equipped to cope with Covid19. Even the standard advice in the UK, to wash hands with soap in running water is hard to follow in communities where there is no piped water. Yet there are protective factors in Uganda as well. It is an incredibly young country. Over half the population is under 15, so there is a chance that the virus will affect less people. There’s also a chance of a reduced spread as much of Uganda is rural with many living in remote villages. I hope that these protective factors will keep the majority of the country safe.

 


7 responses to “Crazy few days

  1. carolcmcgrath says:

    I am just so pleased you are home. What a tale. And how amazing you have been. XX

  2. marquesdach says:

    I can’t believe it all happened so quickly, but at least you are now with your family. Keep safe.

  3. I can’t believe it all happened so quickly, Gail, but at least you are home with your family. Stay Safe.

  4. jim bates says:

    Glad to have you home after your amazing journey, Gail!! I’m so happy you are safe 🙂

  5. carol1875 says:

    What an adventure. Glad you are back safely.

  6. sarahbarr1 says:

    Hi Gail
    I’m so glad you’re back safely. Well done on all your good work in Uganda! Stay well.
    Sarah

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