A Trip to Uganda While Social Distancing

After 43 days of lockdown, Uganda, with 55 confirmed cases of coronavirus announced a restricted opening up of the economy. Social distancing and face masks will be in place. Public transport and schools will not be allowed to operate.

Social distancing. The definition of social distancing that resonates with me is “the extent to which individuals or groups are removed from or excluded from participating in one another’s lives.” (source: Dictionary.com). I feel excluded from other’s lives right now, both here and abroad. One way I cope with my distance from our staff and operations of Into Your Hands Africa is by reading by travel journals from my trips there and imaging the people I met, the programs and impact we have in rural Uganda over this period of lockdown. Warning: I am an optimist.

My most recent trip to Uganda was October 2018. One of our cohorts of women graduated from enterprise training while we were there. I handed out graduation certificates and lots, lots of hugs. Not a time of social distancing. My favorite speech of the day was Nakallisa Maria, alum and prosperous businesswoman selling handcrafted body creams and – soaps. Several women I met that day had business plans for soap. When I spoke with Stella, our head of staff, she told me that going into town, meant washing your hands a minimum of ten times with soap throughout any errand. I presume our women with soap businesses are making income and thanks to their eight long classes, know how to calculate their expenses and revenues as well. Some, like Nakallisa Maria will be confident enough in their skills to pass knowledge on to their households. Other women, like Namatebi Urita or Rita will use this time to gain new skills. Rita, alongside her local veterinarian, is an agricultural innovator – they mix local ingredients, bury it for three weeks and feed it to her IYHA piglets as probiotics. Where Rita has a skill gap is record keeping. One of her thirteen grandchildren, home from school where she pays the tuition, will be helping her learn and grow with her math skills. This is what I envision.

Since schools are closed during this lockdown and continuing, what remnants of our programs would I see? I would see our students spending time with their enterprise projects, usually pigs, at their homes. In 2018, some of our pig project homes had been dug about 3 feet into the ground with coffee beans for flooring. I imagine some of the students hanging out there, in that shaded cool spot, with their pigs, to get away from their boisterous and bored siblings. Maybe they will daydream about their unfinished career plans that they have started with us. What education and career they want to pursue and of course, like youth here, they will be missing their friends.

When I take my mind’s eye back and imagine the larger community, I realize our programs have nurtured resiliency. We established a stronger foundation for individuals, students and women. Some of that foundation is soft skills like knowledge, that is transferred from household to household. Hard skills like building a business ripples from individual to individual. While the formal means of acquiring skills through IYHA programs is halted with lockdown, the informal knowledge and skill transfer opportunities abound. Boredom and creativity are our friends.

I’m not feeling as excluded from lives as I was when I started this. I remain socially distanced – mask in place, 6 feet physically distant. The mental exercise of traveling to Uganda, imagining our impact there? I feel socially included there, even if it’s only in my mind.

Stay safe, socially distanced, but travel somewhere today and feel included…it’s a trip.

Julie King

IYHA Board member

Want to learn how program access during the pandemic is impacting other communities around the globe? Explore stories from our partners: