University staff blesses community amidst COVID-19 lockdown
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/06/university-staff-blesses-community-amidst-covid-19-lockdown/
By Douglas Olum
When Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni directed COVID-19 restrictions on March 20, 2020, many citizens wondered how they would survive. The lockdown order involved closure of all schools and academic institutions, ban of public transportation and shutting of businesses except for manufacturing industries and food dealers.
In addition to hindering the ability for workers to get to places of employment, drivers of motorcycles and taxis were out of work. The pressure on husbands and fathers in particular gave rise to violence in homes. In one three-week period, the Uganda Police Force reported 328 cases of domestic violence. Uganda’s Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development, Peace Regis Mutuuzo, reports that Uganda has recorded over 10,000 cases of domestic violence in the past year, 1,000 of which were recorded between January and April. She said the number is higher as compared to 2019 statistics where only 3,000 cases were recorded in that year.
James Ssenkubuge, a Front Desk Officer at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Kampala Campus, saw first-hand the impact of such stress. When returning from work one evening, he witnessed battering of a wife by her husband after the woman complained about her spouse’s inability to get food for the family. Ssenkubuge ran to the neighbor’s house and separated the fight.
After listening to their plight, he went back to his house and returned with some food that saved the family from sleeping hungry that night. Despite his reduced salary and uncertainty of payment for the future and with his experience of working with less-than-peaceful students, he continued to counsel and help his neighbors in this time of need.
UCU’s Vice Chancellor, Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi, has in recent weeks notified staff like Ssenkubuge that their salaries are reduced by 75 percent for the month of May with no payment for June and possibly other months. The university staff pay is curtained because UCU, supported largely through tuition, is unable to serve new or current students during the lockdown. The roughly 5% of essential UCU employees working on campus are completing tasks without pay.
While the lockdown threatens peace in families like those in Ssenkubuge’s neighbourhood, Mutaasa Mugereza Ayub, the UCU main campus/Mukono Students’ Affairs Administrator, is reaching out to share what he has with others to bring about food security and reduce on the chances of domestic violence. He is using the lockdown period to inspire and mentor children at his neighborhood in practical agricultural skills that can translate into food security in Uganda in the long run.
At the time the lockdown was pronounced in Uganda in late March, Ayub had just transplanted his tomatoes and green peeper seedlings in a garden measuring about 15 x 20 meters (49.2 x 65.6 feet). He started spending more time in his plot, watering, weeding, prunning and spraying the crops.
Passersby of all ages stopped to ask Ayub questions. Without hesitation, he gladly answered and even encouraged them to give the project a try.
“To me agriculture is one thing that gives people financial freedom and time, let alone the food security aspect,” Mutaasa said. “But the problem is that, because of the way some people were raised they look at agriculture as a backward and dirty practice.”
Among the people who asked him questions were five neighborhood children who started regular visits to the garden. As he encouraged the children to do what he was doing, they started looking for tomato seeds and seedlings for planting. Ayub gave them some seeds free of charge.
In early June, the five children were raising their own backyard gardens of not only tomatoes, but other vegetables like onions and green peppers. In Ayub’s own home, children and other relatives are growing tomatoes, beans, among other crops in pots and used car tires.
Ayub says he enjoys imparting whatever skills he has to people and he feels fulfilled seeing the children he is mentoring practice the skills he taught them. He continues to visit the children’s gardens, to support them with chemical spray treatments and to advise them on what to do next.
As his tomatoes and green pepper hit the harvest period, Ayub’s garden has become the community food basket. People flock to the site to purchase products at fair prices – not the higher rates from markets.
Ayub is currently raising another garden of vegetables, hoping to get more fulfilled with his garden outputs and the learners’ skills while he and other people worry about possible job losses and struggle financially.
In mid-June, the possibility of the university re-opening and the staff getting back to work was hanging in balance because the Government of Uganda remained undecided on when schools and other learning institutions could resume. UCU staff like Ssenkubuge and Ayub can’t afford to wait. While exploring options to support their own households, they seek to apply Christian principles to help others.
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