Updated: May 24
While political, racial, and economic tension is rocking America, here at Zozu Project we have daily kept our eye on our brothers and sisters in Uganda, whose story we have followed at every turn.
In March, the Ugandan government began to introduce measures such as a dawn-to-dusk curfew, school closures, and banning both public transit and private vehicle use. Yes, it was severe. The poor, who depend heavily on public transportation and earn a living in face-to-face jobs like market vending, have been hit hard. It’s projected that the lockdown will cause at least the temporary unemployment of 3.8 million Ugandans. Said one young Ugandan in the area where we work, “I heard a rumor that in some villages parents are giving their girls to men for marriage so that they can get money for food.”
It’s been a challenge for our Ugandan staff to adjust, but they have more than risen to the challenge. Two weeks into the distancing measures, our director told us that “the lockdown has done a great havoc to the entire country.” The biggest issue was, and is, food. As he explained, “it [has been] difficult for our people to get food, since for many Ugandans the system of food is food to mouth daily. This means we do not store food, we have to look for food every day, even walking many miles to get it.”
So, in cooperation with the government, our staff began a food distribution six days a week. They’re going to the households of the 400+ children enrolled in the Zozu program. Over the first three rounds, more than 20,000 meals worth of food has been distributed. Thanks to donations from many, many people, and the dedication of our staff, these distributions have saved lives.
It’s been over three months since the lockdown began. As the US experiments with re-opening, Uganda is doing the same. Last week, the President of Uganda announced the current plan. Schools, including Solid Rock Christian School, will be allowed to open their classrooms in July. New health measures will be added, such as facial masks for all students and teachers, but the government has yet to release a statement detailing what schools will need to do before re-opening.
With that tentative plan and another month of school closure ahead, the Zozu Project staff are preparing for their fourth round of food distribution. We’ll do everything we can to get the school ready to open as soon as legally possible. But after the threat of COVID has passed, the much-longer battle against poverty will rage on.
It’s easy to conceive of the COVID-19 virus as the enemy of the families we serve. However, unemployment, low education, starvation, and malaria, (which kills over 1 million worldwide each year), are in reality more imposing threats that predate COVID by a longshot. Right now, the children we’re taking care of are more in danger from malaria because they don’t have access to the free school health clinic. Moms, dads, caretakers, and children have been facing these threats for generations.
One day, we will look back on the Corona virus with sadness at the lives that have been lost. However, we suspect that are attention will shift quickly to new challenges that need to be overcome in these children’s lives. It can be bleak to think that as soon as COVID passes, there is no guarantee that it will not be replaced with another threat, like a locust plague or a waterborne pathogen. However, while being realistic, we are not going to give up. Jesus himself quoted this passage from the Old Testament when talking to his disciples, “For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor…’” (John 12:8, Deut 15:11, emphasis added).
We didn’t forget about these children when COVID hit, and we won’t leave them when it has passed. In the face of widespread tumult, we rejoice in the life of each little child we provide for. Thanks to a complex web of sponsors, donors, teachers, administrators, staff, and caretakers, hundreds of children’s lives are still being changed here. God won’t be stopped. His love for these children won’t be stopped. So we won’t be stopped either. A trip is in the works for later this year, if the government and the virus allows, and we’re excited to bring you first-hand news. As everyone says these days, we’re all in this together.