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Fighting Covid-hunger against many odds

A robust research effort is currently underway to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.

We are being told that a return to the status quo ante is unfathomable before the developed vaccine is affordably available for all and sundry. That Covid-19 lockdowns, the world over, have had devastating effects on our personal and collective lives is undeniable. Less narrated in these trying times, however, are stories of resilience particularly from those belonging to the underbelly of our societies.

In this brief reflection, I would like to foreground one such story of resilience amidst the brutally enforced lockdown measures in urban Uganda.

This is a story of a one child-headed household in Bunga- Kawuku, one of the suburbs of Kampala city. Three years ago, I met Juma (not his real name) at his rolex-making booth on Ggaba road. He was then colloquially known as Musoga— most probably having come to the city from one of the villages in Busoga, eastern Uganda.

Juma was 14 years old when we first met. Before last year (2019) ended, Juma had managed to bring over his two younger siblings to Kampala. He had secured a one-room house for rent in the outskirts of Bunga-Kawuku. Justine (not her real name) was 15 and John (not his real name) 13 when I met them with Juma last December.

The trio now ran the business, with John specialising in katunda (homemade passion juice) and Justine in bijjanjalo (saucy beans), while Juma concentrated on rolexes.

The rolex has become one of Uganda’s fast-foods, particularly for many casual labourers on a daily income in urban centers. It basically consists of a thin omelette rolled onto a chapatti, sometimes stuffed with cabbage. Covid-19 could not be untimely for Juma and his siblings.

The little capital they had accumulated in the first two months of 2020 was reinvested in the business. Not even the rent for the month of March (both for the business premises and their domicile) had been paid when the government announced tougher lockdown measures on March 31, 2020.

Juma, now 17, with his two younger siblings, found themselves out of business, covered by a thick atmosphere of despair. More than the virus itself, the implementation of lockdown measures decreed by the Ugandan government was eating up my buddies’ hope for a daily chapatti!

But all will not be lost for Juma and his siblings. I was struck by their imaginative capability to reposition themselves vis-à-vis tougher times. The Covid-19 crisis has quickly taught these adolescents that only a good dose of innovative resilience is key for survival.

“So please explain to me, Musoga,” I asked, “How have you become Juma?” Striking indeed was the revelation Juma confided in him: “We were born into a religiously mixed-up family; while our dad associated with Islam, our mum kept her Catholic faith intact. And when both our parents passed on [some ten years ago], our auntie who took custody of us was a staunch born-again Christian”.

Against the backdrop of that religious cocktail in their early upbringing, the trio decided to rekindle the three religious identities in positioning themselves for charitable care in the uncertain times of Covid-19 lockdown.

“Previously known as Musoga”, Juma further revealed, “I now took up a Muslim name, particularly in anticipation of material care in the holy month of Ramadan and the feast of Eid!” Justine too assured me that she’s “Catholic Justine, just like my mother was and this has really paid off well, particularly in the Lenten period!” John, on his part, declared to me that he was a staunch born-again: “I associate with Watoto Church of Kasanga, in the same way our auntie, who preliminary raised us, was born-again”.

It indeed makes a miracle for many in Juma’s neighbourhood and beyond to even secure their daily meal in the current Covid-19 lockdown. But for Juma’s household, their innovative resilience strategy is thus far working well: Juma, who now volunteers in the local mosque as cleaner, makes rounds to the domicile of the Muslim faithful for weekly alms.

So many of them are touched that a 17-year-old dude can volunteer to keep their now-deserted place of worship neat in such trying times.

So voluminous, therefore, are the alms Juma collects weekly. Some donate in kind (detergents, cleaning material, protective gear, etc.) while others go ahead to donate cash. The same goes for Justine, who too volunteers as cleaner at the local parish church. Even more voluminous are her weekly collections. John, on his part, trumps up his two siblings in terms of food collections.

His Sunday school teachers at Watoto Church see to it that weekly food collections from a myriad of churchgoers keep increasing. In that way, folks such as John stay food-secure in these trying times.

The Covid-19 lockdown has undoubtedly precipitated a Hobbesian state of nature for so many in both urban and rural Uganda. But for Juma and his siblings, coronized life is far from ‘brutal, short and nasty’! Their innovative resilience seems to have outplayed the despair midwifed by Covid- 19.


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