Written by: Frederick H
It has been a marathon of days, giving birth to unprecedented times that have led to a reign of all kinds of lockdowns in different parts of the world. In a world of over 7 billion people, the respiratory illness has not only tested the health systems of nations but the economic muscle of the world and patience of individuals. With over 11 million cases and over fifty thousand deaths registered so far, there are still a series of gaps to be addressed.
A new normal of working at home, having to wear masks in public, social distancing, and closure of public institutions like schools. The circumstances have come with a grave impact on the world economy. International and relief organizations have had to divert their focus, adjusting budgets and channeling funds to fight the pandemic, not only in the developing countries but developed countries too. Nevertheless, a combined effort in this fight has seen a tremendous level of awareness of the disease trickling down to rural areas in the poorest of remote villages in developing countries. This goes to inform us, Coronavirus disease has gravely impacted and affected the lives of human beings regardless of status and geographical setup.
In East Africa, Particularly Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, governments took steps to protect the vulnerable in their countries and all their citizens at large. Lockdowns and curfews had to come into effect at different levels based on the positions and timelines that different governments took. This meant that those that worked in non-essential sectors had to withstand months without work, schools had to be closed and different government operatives had to enforce the rules of individuals staying at home with their families. To some families this was new. Of course, in the beginning, children were happy to be home with their parents and the reverse is true. Unfortunately, this took away the time children had to interact with fellow students at a stage they surely needed it. This meant that couples that rarely spent time together or who avoided one another had to spend time together at all costs. With a reduction in incomes and threats of loss of employment for some family heads, it has been hard to live through these unprecedented times without fatigue, anxiety, and stress kicking in, for both parents and children. Given the circumstances, the world still has to survive and move forward. The hardest hurdle is how we as a people are going to handle the wounds that will be left behind by the pandemic.
At Prince Wako Foundation, we have had to brave through this period with a broader focus of creating a greater impact through awareness, well knowing that knowledge and right action can save our cause – dignity for all. With community awareness, we are persuaded that the vulnerable girl child will easily get the protection and relief they deserve, even when the pandemic is no more. We, therefore, have singled out six areas that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to. In the long run, how will the effects left behind by this pandemic shape the girl child relationships and development in our developing nations?
At the beginning of April, mainstream media in Uganda and Kenya reported increasing levels of conflicts in homes. Parents that had avoided one another were now forced to spend all time together, some could not stand it. The family incomes dwindled and the pressure to feed families grew as the anxiety grew. With children of all age groups at home, any breadwinner can never sleep with a settled mind unless he or she is sure of the next day’s meal for his children. This sparked fights between parents under the watch of children. Psychologists opine that children and the process of their character development are shaped largely by the example set by their parents. In this case, the girl child that harbored the pain of being out of school, out of touch with her classmates due to COVID 19, and watched her father beat up her mother will require a lot of emotional balance to move on purposefully. This goes to emphasize, no matter the circumstances, we as stakeholders should take charge of what is going on around the children and protect them from any kind of eventual psychological torture and emotional break down
In some urban areas where breadwinners live from hand to mouth, like Nairobi and Kampala slums, hunger has become a disease of its own. Those who have been operating businesses of commuter taxis (matatus) for example have been out of business for as long as there has been a lockdown. Many breadwinners have failed to effectively feed their children, despite the need to feed them on a balanced diet at this critical stage in their lives. Nutritionists argue that at the early stage of development of children, good feeding is a must. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, this has not been possible in families that have grappled with hunger all through. Some families headed by single mothers had to survive on single meals per day. So in prioritizing areas that we as caregivers should focus on, dealing with hunger whether acute or mild must be first on the list.
Loss of jobs and businesses has come with the scare of poverty. In rural settings, those that have always wished to do away with the girl child education in their families at the expense of early marriage will try to attempt to get back to their ill desires, under the pretext of dealing with poverty. So we should not completely channel our energy towards fighting the pandemic, and forget the devastating effects that the underlying effects COVID 19 has on the vices that were already in existence. Amidst the Pandemic we urge all our partners to keep rallying behind us to emphasize our cause, resultantly making sure that the pandemic does not arm-twist parents to force their girls into early marriages under the pretext of receiving dowry as a source of income.
Violence and death have been related in one way or another. Many have died due to the respiratory illness, leaving several orphans, single mothers, and fathers. This has robbed the world of many breadwinners. Under the circumstances, we must commit ourselves to the care and actively help where our abilities serve us. Take full responsibility for orphans in the absence of their biological parents. Live to see them develop into responsible citizens.
In the month of May, amidst the Pandemic, NBS Television, one of the leading mainstream media aired a story of ‘over sixty girls that had gotten pregnant due to the circumstances of the lockdown in Uganda’. It is so painful to take in the fact that given the circumstances, right-thinking members of the society still have to be reminded of the dangers of early pregnancies to girls. You find that over age men are responsible for these pregnancies and they are proud of all that they see as a product of their informed actions. Let the shift of priorities for the moment not make our societies complacent. Early pregnancies regardless of the circumstances, affect the progress of the girl child. Many opportunities easily fly out of one’s life and it takes a whole load for one to meaningfully recover.
Let us know, there is no other best time to start, other than now. Despite the pandemic, Prince Wako Foundation has extended a helping hand to different communities and individuals in the Eastern part of Uganda, since the beginning of the year. You can also be an example that you want to see in your community despite the lockdown and restrictions. If you are a social worker in your community, put your knowledge into practice. Counselors, let’s do our part to make sure that vulnerable girls do not fall into traps set by the glaring poverty. Let us all live to care, help, and educate so that we see ourselves out of this pandemic stronger.