Bodaboda (motor-bike taxis), matatu (mini-bus taxis) and coach parks in Uganda were milling with students and teachers being sent home from schools last week. The Delta variant of Covid has reached Uganda. Schools have been closed for 42 days as part of a new national lockdown. Sadly, this has turned into an unintended super-spreading event and Covid is now spreading fast.
When I spoke with school Directors 3 weeks ago, they were reporting little evidence of Covid around the schools. In fact, during the whole pandemic still fewer than 400 official deaths were recorded before the arrival of the new variant. Things have changed dramatically. The virus has spread rapidly and is affecting all age groups. Hospitals are overflowing with patients. ICU facilities are limited and cannot cope. Supplies of oxygen and medicines are running out. Peter Kisirinya, Director of Isaac Newton School, says that ambulance sirens can be heard throughout the day and local joiners are doing a big trade in coffins. It is becoming reminiscent of the situation 20 years ago when HIV/AIDS was at its peak. Peter’s mother has been rushed into intensive care with Covid and he thinks his father is showing symptoms. Two of the school askaris (security guards) are ill, as are the three guards at Mustard Seed School. So far, no teachers or students have succumbed to the virus, but it is a worrying time for all.
At Uganda Humanist Schools Trust we are determined to do everything we can to ensure that the efforts that have been made to create the ground-breaking Humanist Schools is not lost. We will do our best to ensure that the children have schools to return to when the Covid lockdown ends. The main issue if staffing. Much as we would like to, we do not have the resources to cover the entire salary bill during the school closure. We have agreed to pay a half salary through to July, the end of the school year. We are also making supplementary payments to cover costs that must be met even when the schools are closed – security, essential maintenance, and fixed charges for utilities.
All the Humanist Schools have a close relationship with their communities and wish to help them at this time of need. There are families of school children around the school who are literally starving due to the loss of their livelihoods. The schools are doing what they can to help by providing maize meal and beans to feed the children. The builders at Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School are marooned due to travel restrictions. So, we are providing money to enable them to finish off the school. Apart from this, we have stopped all other building projects and mothballed a plan to work with Play-Action International to put playground equipment into the 4 primary schools. At the present time, all our efforts need to be focused on ensuring the schools survive.
Schools are due to reopen in July. However, the problem will continue until a substantial proportion of Uganda’s population has been vaccinated. The main supply from India has been cut off due to a temporary export ban. The Uganda government has prioritised health workers and teachers for the limited vaccine supplies. Teachers at Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed School have received first doses of the Astra-Zenica vaccine, as have some teachers in the primary schools, but stocks have run out for the second. At UHST we realise that Covid will be a challenge for the schools for another year at least. We will have to make effective use of the money we have if we are to support the schools through the pandemic. We are determined to do everything we can to ensure that the Humanist Schools are able to resume the outstanding contribution that they are making to the lives of children in their communities. We really appreciate the efforts of our supporters for helping us through this unforeseen disaster.