Host families come to the rescue of international students during Covid-19 lockdown
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2021/04/host-families-come-to-the-rescue-of-international-students-during-covid-19-lockdown/
Story and Photos By Grace Bisoke
March 18, 2020, began like any other day for many people in Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni was set to address the nation that Wednesday evening. The issue of coronavirus disease was to take center stage in his remarks.
To the members of the President’s cabinet who had had a meeting two days before, this address was not an ordinary one. There were major decisions agreed upon. And the President was expected to make the communication public. Among that public were Uganda Christian University (UCU) faculty and national and international students.
Some of the issues had already leaked to the press. In fact, that day, the lead headline in the New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, was Government to Suspend Church Services. Not many people believed this. And they were right to have doubts. As of that Wednesday, there had been 200,179 confirmed Covid-19 cases in 163 countries. Of those, 7,958 had died. And Uganda was not part of those statistics.
At 8 p.m., Museveni began his address by educating the nation about Covid-19 and how it was spread. One of his pronouncements confirmed the lead headline in the New Vision that day. “In the interest of our people’s health, prayers in churches, mosques, open air prayers and services should be suspended …with immediate effect,” Museveni said.
But before announcing the closure of prayer places, Museveni had announced the closure of schools, starting March 20, 2020. “All these institutions, without exception, should close so that we deny this virus high concentration. We don’t want the virus to find dry grass ready for ignition,” Museveni said.
As students were still coming to terms with the abrupt closure of schools, the borders and the international airport, too, were closed two days later – adding to the anxiety of UCU students from outside the country. Many opted to remain in the hostels where they were residing, but the unease increased as they ran out of cash. On May 12, 2020, the Daily Monitor, one of the English daily newspapers in Uganda, published a story, detailing how 300 students across universities had been stranded in hostels and were starving.
The resolution at UCU was host families. The administrator in charge of international students at UCU, Edgar Kabahizi, said that in conjunction with the UCU International Students Association, the stranded UCU students were assigned to the care of local families – Ugandan families, often in homes owned by UCU staff and clergy in Mukono. In normal times, Americans in the Uganda Studies Program have the option of living with a local family or living on campus.
“We were stuck. We didn’t know what to do next,” said Shalom Talandira Mukhuva, a Malawian student pursuing a Bachelor of Public Health course at UCU, and who was among the beneficiaries of the warmth of a host home.
The host family chosen by the school gave me a warm welcome and a personal room,” he said, describing the care he received, including regular checks by Kabahizi, as “a good experience.”
For Eziuzo Chizoba Oluebubechukwu, a Nigerian student, her stay with a host family was an opportunity to learn new skills.
“I learned to make snacks like pancake and chapatti,” Chizoba, now in third year, pursuing a Bachelor of International Business, said. She appreciated the Christian practices, including morning and night-time prayers, in the home and being corrected when she made mistakes. Her stay, she said, was morally and spiritually enriching.
But there were some students who opted to reside in the campus halls of residence.
“I am glad that the university allowed me to remain at the campus and provided me with food and security,” said Munyakazi Mugabe Alexis, a Congolese, final-year Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering student. “Personally, I do not like staying with new people, because of culture shock.”
Mugabe and a handful of international students who chose to stay in the university halls were kept under close watch, lest they strayed and contracted the coronavirus disease and experienced too much loneliness. While appreciating the care, Mugabe said at times he felt frustration with the lack of freedom and requirements to have permission from the Director of Students Affairs or the warden to go outside the campus gates.
Schools were re-opened to final-year learners in October 2020. Many semi-finalists reported to school in March 2021. Other classes are expected to follow in a phased manner, until early June, when the last batch of the lower primary school, will be expected to report to school. Uganda’s higher institutions of learning were given the greenlight to conduct online studies in July 2020.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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