CREATING CHANGE DURING A LOCKDOWN
By Carol Mukisa Nyangoma, Executive Director, Warm Hearts Foundation
I am a thirty-year-old Ugandan who resides in Wakiso district. I am a writer, administrator, and women activist who runs a community-based organization that fights gender-based violence and child abuse. And at the same time, employed at a real estate company as an accounts assistant and administrator. From the time the first case of coronavirus was discovered on 21st March 2020, the whole country was left in shock and fear of what would happen due to the fact that the pandemic is spread by people hence a likelihood of a lockdown. The situation worsened when the cases rose to 14, when the president of Uganda announced the stoppage of public transport.
That was the last day I went to work; my organization was stuck with many cases of domestic violence to tackle since so many people were contacting the organization seeking help which I wasn’t able to offer fully. On several occasions, I walked to the nearest police station which is about 5 kilometers from the place I stay in order to save so many people whose homes had turned into torture grounds. A lot of the organization work got stalled due to limited resources and manpower so it was upon me the Executive Director to stand in the gap. I myself could not continue injecting in more money to run the organization since my salary receipt was hanging in balance, so I kept running the activities online so there were some expenses involved. Fortunately, I received my salary for March but that wasn’t the case with the rest of the months (April and May). Commodity prices hiked tremendously, and it was worse for food. For instance, I always purchased a small sacket of salt at UGX. 800, but it had hiked to UGX 2,000.
When private means of transport were released after about two months, my boss called me back to work even when he knew I do not have a private car. Sometimes I would board a private car and pay almost thrice of the transport as compared to what I used to pay yet I was not earning. This greatly affected my wellbeing and economic state. I had to cut on family expenses in order to survive. For instance, we cut off on water and power use and the number of meals per day. Even when the government distributed the food, I personally did not get it. In addition to high expenses, my job security is still shaky, as most of the tenants for the company that employs me had not paid the rent and some are leaving the buildings. I had saved some little money on my account and I utilized the whole of it for survival. I still have unpaid rent pending for my organization premises and still not sure of where to get the money from since there no funding yet.
The government needs to distribute more food to the right population because no one in my neighborhood got relief food and more children are getting starved every day. Also, the government should recognize the work of non-state organizations more because they are the ones that are on the ground to help people in case of any human rights abuse cases. The public less trusts the police due to corruption tendencies since most of them ask for money in order to render any help. So the government needs to equip and fund the organizations and also consider them as essential workers because the cases they deal with are lifesaving.
The government needs to increase more funds to Community District Officers and Local Council chairpersons since they are the ones on the ground to help the society if any need arises. Items like airtime, fuel, and transport means like motorbikes should be provided to them for rescue and intervention purposes.
The government also needs to bring the corrupt officials to book with an iron hand and if proved guilty, confiscate their property as a lesson to others. Much as so many people gave in donations to help those affected by the pandemic, a very few people got the relief. Even some who got the food, some of it was of very poor quality.
Tough laws are needed to also bring unfair employees to book. Much as I did not lose the job of which my counterparts did, no compensation has been done for the exorbitant expenses I incur in the struggle to get to work as I spend a lot more than I earn since transport means have been doubled and other double expenditures like food expenses. My health wellbeing has also been affected. As a woman in my reproductive age, I find it harder to access reproductive health services due to transport means and limited resources. So the government needs to bring service centers closer to people.
Generally, socially, much as I utilized this time to bond with my immediate family more, I have missed on other social bonding like meeting with other social circles. Economically, my financial situation has been drained, no savings, or even investments, just living to see another day and hoping for a better tomorrow. My organization activities are close to getting stalled as there are no finances to cover expenses for those who could be willing to volunteer yet abuse cases have doubled. I hope the government polishes on the service delivery as we hope this lockdown to end so that we can go back to our normal life. However, the recovery from the shortcomings will take some time.