Just in time: going on mission during lockdown

Caption: [L to R] Joel, Verity, Simeon, Tom, Eli and Ezra

Tom and Verity Clare and their four sons arrived in Uganda just as the borders were closing. Tom was ready to get to work improving the health of locals and refugees, while Verity planned to homeschool the boys with a view to working in peacebuilding or teaching English as the boys grow. Here, we hear about the reality of their first weeks in the country.

We feel so blessed to have finally made it to Uganda and are very thankful for God’s precise timing in getting us here! We arrived on 5 March, just before all flights to Uganda were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first case of Covid-19 here in Uganda was confirmed on 20 March in a traveller arriving from Dubai and the government has been very proactive in working to prevent any significant local transmission.

We have been in a quasi-lockdown since 1 April. Religious gatherings, schools and universities are suspended. Weddings can only take place with fewer than 10 people. Social gatherings must be fewer than five people. No passenger traffic is allowed on the roads and shops or markets not selling food have been closed.

Thankfully, we are allowed to walk into town (a 30-minute walk for us) and there is no restriction on how many times you can go out to buy food.

Those of you who have spent time in East Africa will recognise how dramatically these measures will have transformed Uganda. The roads of the big cities – usually brimming with thousands of motorbike (or boda boda) drivers and cars – are now almost completely deserted, with just cargo, medical vehicles and a few other exceptions allowed to use the roads.

These measures do appear to be working, with very limited community transmission as yet.

The total number of confirmed cases stands at 126 (as we write)* and the majority of new cases are identified with screening tests at the border.

For us as a family, these measures have made our entry to life here much more challenging. In the short period of normality after we arrived, some local kids had started to come to our compound to play football, but we had to cancel this just as Ezra was starting to make friends. Since then, we’ve been unable to meet many new people, making the transition harder for the boys particularly.

Tom spent a single day in the diocesan office but due to Covid-19 prevention measures, he has not been going in to work for a few weeks now, instead spending time at home helping look after the children and trying to squeeze in some Lugbara language learning or preparatory reading where possible. Verity has enjoyed having Tom around for longer than expected, but we are all looking forward to being able to socialise and get out and about more.

While we have had our difficulties, life for the millions of people in Uganda who normally live hand-to-mouth has been so much more challenging, particularly those working in public transport or small businesses. Suddenly their income has fallen to zero overnight and while some have ‘gardens’ with crops they can eat for the duration of the lockdown, many are also going hungry or suffering the consequences of increased food prices.

Please pray for the Ugandan families struggling to make ends meet at this time and for God’s mercy on Uganda and the rest of Africa in limiting the severity of Covid-19’s impact, but also in limiting the impact of the lockdown. Pray for wisdom for the ministry of health and President Museveni in how and when to relax the measures safely.

Update: Tom and Verity write that the number of cases in Uganda is now over 1,000 (though the death toll is still zero) and the restrictions on public transport have eased somewhat. Tom went back to work at the start of June and is now able to visit health centres and deliver some staff training as well as begin to see some patients.

Published 15 July 2020

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