Bringing hope to Africa amid COVID-19
Kathy Vaughan, who serves with Redeemer Ministries, has been a missionary in Uganda since 2008.
Vaughan is from Prineville, and like many missionaries, has found herself in a firestorm as the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world.
She came home in 2018 to take care of her mom, who later passed away. In December 2019, she returned to Africa — just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uganda was early to react against the pandemic, quarantining all non-Ugandan passengers arriving through their international airport starting in early March. All flights into and out of Uganda were suspended March 22, 2020, the same day Uganda reported its first Coronavirus case, and borders were closed at that time, except for cargo trucks.
"On March 23, the President (of Uganda) announced a shutdown which included, among other things, the closing of all but the most essential businesses — closing of all weekly markets and immediate suspension of all public transport and boda-boda (motorcycle) transport, with private cars only allowed to carry three passengers," commented Vaughan. "This immediately threw a majority of Uganda out of work, either through job loss or inability to travel to work."
Since 85% of Ugandans work in the informal sector as casual day laborers — meaning they live hand to mouth and eat that night what they earned that day — families were thrown into food insecurity without warning. The government promised to identify those who needed food to feed them, but almost six weeks later no effort was made to identify them and only a few little pockets of people near the capitol had gotten food, and only once.
"A week later, on March 28, even private vehicles were banned, and workers were told they had to sleep at work and couldn't travel home," added Vaughan. "Employers who couldn't accommodate that were told to shut down. More people lost their jobs, more families couldn't buy food."
Vaughan went on to say that the complete ban of transport in the country has created a medical crisis where people are dying, especially pregnant mothers and their babies, because they cannot access medical care. Government vehicles are supposed to be available for medical transport, but unfortunately that does not always happen.
"When I found out that mothers with newborn babies were trapped in the local government hospital because of the sudden travel ban and had no food because all the food vendors and family members were banned from the hospitals, I spent two and a half days trying to get them home," indicated Vaughan. "The government never did send any vehicles, and the hospital only agreed to transport them home in a pickup when I agreed to pay for fuel and to fuel the hospital van for four days to pick up their senior nurses and take them home each day. The junior unmarried nurses had to stay at the hospital, and the promised government funds to feed them never materialized, so the missionaries here in Jinja have been feeding 28 young nurses for the last five weeks."
Vaughan commented that essentially all the people she works with have lost their means of supporting their families. She said it has not been quite as devastating for those who live in the villages and have gardens, but for those in the villages who have no land for gardens and those who live in the city, there is no food.
"Our challenge has been identifying people who need food, whether they are in our program or not, and figuring out how to get food to them. Initially the President said that any politician giving out food would be charged with attempted murder," she explained, adding that it is also election season there. "The next week he extended that to churches and NGOs (non-government organizations) which includes Redeemer Ministries. We were already giving food to hungry people, something that is at the heart of what God tells us to do, and I had to decide whether to obey God or man. I decided that if they wanted to arrest me or deport me, we were going to feed as many hungry people as we could before they stopped us."
Vaughan noted that they have continued to give out food, but that has been a hard choice for some ministries there. One missionary in another part of the country was arrested, but the local authorities gave him permission to continue and turned him loose.
"I don't think the people would stand for it if the government did try to prosecute someone, because the government is not feeding the people," she said. "Just today, I heard that churches and NGOs are now going to be allowed to give out food if they follow certain guidelines, so I guess my board won't have to worry about posting my bail."
Vaughan said they are currently feeding between 250 to 300 families. She is essentially confined to her house, so she sends boda drivers to shop for food and deliver it to one of seven different groups they are working with, including a small children's home, a group of HIV+ women and their families, their friends in the slum, and a group of 10 young street boys. She added that they also rent a room for the street boys, who were sleeping in the sewers after being beaten by the police for violating curfew.
"We partner with people on the ground who keep track of those we are assisting and help sack up the food and pass it out quietly, one family at a time," she said. "We also give out food to those we regularly support and to our neighbors who need it and send small cash grants weekly by phone to about 50 others. We have almost emptied our two grain silos, which hold over 3,300 pounds of maize, for the second time, in addition to buying another ton of ground maize. We also give beans, dried peas, salt, soap, and some vegetables, and sometimes sugar or oil, and charcoal for cooking. My Ugandan partner Ruth has made over 100 liters of liquid soap to give out."
The government normally provides medicine through monthly clinics to people who suffer from epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension, TB, mental illness, etc. Those clinics have been cancelled and people left without meds, so Vaughan said they are providing a lot of those needs.
The funding for all this food and medicine has come from people in America, especially Prineville, who hear about the situation there and give generously to help take care of those in need.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am," exclaimed Vaughan. "I can't imagine what it would be like to be here, seeing people around me starving, and not be able to help them. In a country of 40 million, we are barely making a dent, but there are many others doing the same thing. For those we know of, we can make a difference, and so far, we have been able to help everyone who has come across our path. That is only by the grace and mercy of God, who has touched the hearts of so many to give generously."
Uganda has been able to head off a serious outbreak of COVID-19 so far, with only 85 cases reported (amid very little testing), and no deaths. Jinja, where Vaughan lives, has one case.
"People here are very fearful of the disease, thinking it is a death sentence," she said. "There are many who would argue that the cure has been worse than the disease, with a majority of the population weakened by malnutrition and less likely to fight it off if it does start to spread, let alone the long term health impact of a failed economy."
"There are so many things that people can pray about for Uganda," Vaughan concluded. "First of all, please pray that the President would lift these oppressive restrictions. The long-term economic repercussions will be devastating. Most of the people that we have helped through micro enterprise loans over the years have used all their resources to take care of their families and will now be back at square one, with no capital to continue their businesses."
She added that people have even sold their mattresses and saucepans and dishes to get food. Many Ugandans who were providing for their families before will not be able to now. Those who have not been able to pay their rent will be evicted as soon as that becomes legal again. Parents have not been able to save up for school fees, so many children will not return to school this year. The locusts are back in the north and east, worse than ever. Lake Victoria is flooding and covering whole villages. If the Coronavirus does get started there, the medical facilities will be completely unable to handle the serious cases.
"For our ministry specifically, pray that God would continue to provide finances for us to help families, and that we will have wisdom to know how to help people that will be financially devastated by this."
To partner and support Redeemer Ministries to bring hope to the people of Africa, send tax-deductible contributions to Redeemer Ministries, PO Box 311, Prineville, OR 97754.
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