I woke up on Saturday morning not expecting a lesson. I had hoped for a quiet, restful morning and was annoyed that my time and space kept getting interrupted. I had no clue that I was about to get schooled on the reality of coronavirus lockdown, even less by four angels who by midday reduced me to tears.
Angel of the children
Anena’s* smile was so big, I struggled to get grumpy when she knocked on the door. She came to read a book with us, the only semblance of formal education in her life right now. She struggled to read the five word sentences, but was delighted to finish the book and take a new one home.
But reading the odd book with a couple of try-hard non-teachers isn’t going to help Anena learn what she needs to get ahead. Under lockdown, young children haven’t been at school for 16 months, which will hold back the futures of some, and decimate the futures of many. We pray Anena will only be held back.
Angel of the young women
16-year-old Priska has piles of responsibility. She cooks, looks after her younger siblings while earning some money on the side. That’s why we met on this fateful Saturday morning – she washed clothes for us for some extra money. But when school is off, and every teenage girl and boy in the community is at home, you can imagine what too often happens. Although data is scarce, one report from Comboni Samaritans estimated that almost 18,000 girls between 12 and 17 became pregnant during lockdown.
And like many kids here, even before coronavirus Priska had already missed a lot of school. She’ll be around 20 when she’s finished primary school and chances of secondary school are slimmer than ever. Coronavirus lockdown could well be the last nail in the coffin, ending her chances of further education.
Angel of the sick
Id never met Angela before, as she walked up to the door with one leg, and one old crutch. Her 9-year-old daughter was next to her, not looking too well. It turns out they were both sick. Malaria had been multiplying in her daughter’s blood for 3 days, while Angela wondered how she would scrape together the two dollars required to get tested and treated. Fortunately, I had some malaria tests and medication and was able to help her out this time.
Sick people with little money struggle even more under lockdown. Many street sellers, transporters and market vendors have lost their source of income, and therefore have lost the ability to pay for healthcare. In the village it’s even harder, as transport has been restricted and motorcycle taxis risk beatings by the police as they carry the sick.
And if you have a serious illness like heart disease or cancer, I have no idea how you’ll manage to get to Kampala, the capital, for treatment. Your chances of survival are slim.
Angel of the working poor
At 25, Omiya’s life already could be the opening scene of a movie. Through grit and determination, he supported his brother through school and built homes for his family – despite being an orphan who didn’t complete primary school himself. Despite being unable to read or write, he overcame the odds to complete a carpentry qualification and has just now built a simple workshop out of wood offcuts and used iron sheets. Within weeks he had filled a few orders and things were looking good.
And then lockdown hit
“Cene dong pe ba.” – “There’s no more money”. Today was only the second time in seven years that Omiya had run out of money. Carpentry orders had dried up, there are no odd jobs around and he’s out of luck providing for his wife and young child. Make no mistake: if Omiya was born in New Zealand, he would have achieved more than we ever could. He just happened to lose the geographic and socio-economic lottery and so here we are, on an extraordinary Saturday morning with a hard-working and enterprising person asking us, his lucky, rich, Western friends, for help.
The lockdown will devastate the working poor
After Omiya left, my self-indulgent grumpiness finally melted. The reality of the four angels sunk in and tears started flowing. My expectations of a quiet and relaxing morning had led me to miss the gravity and reality of lockdown all around me, and I had failed respond with the kind of love required.
Perhaps too late, the voice of God finally broke through a stubborn heart.
“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
*Names used are not people’ actual names to preserve privacy.