Community experience of Covid-19 in Katakwi (Uganda)
The experience of Covid-19 can be compared with that at the time of Noah, or that of Sodom and Gomorrah, where people were eating and drinking and going about their own things. This may sound as if we were also only going about eating and drinking and committing sins, but on the contrary, we were making our own plans and drawing up our own programme of activities, how best to move things forward in the year 2020.
As a community we had already planned that Remi would go on holiday in June and come back probably in September and then Josephat would go. Our Stagiaire Yannick was everywhere singing the songs of Burkina, because he knew that soon he would be renewing his Declaration of Intent and say bye to Katakwi. Our Deacon was preparing himself so that, when he is called, he would go home for ordination.
That notwithstanding, our pastoral programme was planned from February up to April, each one knew which outstation he would visit on such or such a date, etc. Our bigger pastoral projects were well planned and execution commenced: the construction of the church, the fund-raising, the youth apostolate programme, the school building and a whole lot of goings and comings. At the diocesan level, the pastoral programme was rolled out.
In this agenda, the Bishop made it clear that we should all join hands to build the new cathedral and to strengthen the pastoral work at the grass roots, by bringing the sacraments close to the people. Consequently, this would protect our Christians from being misled by Christians of other sects. Then all of a sudden, we started hearing of a sickness which had started in China and was spreading like village rumour. Within a twinkle of an eye, we started hearing that this sickness was in Spain, Italy, France and Germany. At first, we thought to ourselves that this was a European sickness, and it would not reach us here. All this while we were still moving about doing good, and I am sure our plans and projects were still on. However, in a surprise and frightening turn of events, it looked as if the world was coming to an end or a standstill, as all activities were put on hold in Uganda and all our neighbouring countries.
I had gone to Soroti to go shopping. There, an Indian shop keeper showed me a message on WhatsApp which was very frightening. The information from the message was that the virus was in Uganda and the cases were much higher than what we had heard on TV, even in the surrounding villages of Soroti. I was scared and got suspicious of everyone I was meeting that day, as if they had Covid-19.
Earlier in the year, we had the locusts’ invasion, which was also scary. I had read about the locust only in biology during my secondary education, and the picture I had of locusts was nothing less than destruction, hunger and poverty. In the words of the commentators I would say: what a year? A year of surprises, a year of disappointments, a year of anxieties, a year of sorrows, yet in another sense a year of reassuring us of God’s constant presence in the journey of humanity.
In spite of all this confusion, we first tried to take precautionary measures, by purchasing enough food and other necessities for the house and also bought some sanitisers and masks to make sure we were protected. We keenly followed the news every day to be updated on the pandemic in Uganda as well as in other countries. We were much concerned with Rome since that is the seat of the Church, and Italy was one of the much-hit countries. And also, because our General Council is there, so many of our confreres study there and generally a lot of priests and religious life in Rome. We also sympathised with one another country. First it was Burkina, then Ghana and finally Malawi in terms of how the Covid cases were recorded. Most of all, we were all faithful to listen to the President of Uganda and his ministers as they guided the country on the lockdown.
These pictures of Katakwi are taken from the Internet and are not directly related to the article.
All hope was not lost as we committed to prayer, asking God to intervene and let corona leave the face of the earth. We also encouraged the families to pray at home. Many of our Christians were saying the lockdown was the work of the devil to stop prayer, but we tried to help them take this as an opportunity to reinforce family prayer which is fast disappearing in many Christian families. We also encouraged them to see this pandemic as an opportunity to build the family bond and unity as many of them have not had this opportunity to be together for long.
On our side, we continued with daily Masses in our chapel where, united with all our Christians in spirit, we continued to pray for our Christians in their everyday challenges and especially for the world to defeat Covid. In the same vein, we asked for the wisdom of God to discern what message God has for us amidst this pandemic, so that we can learn and respond positively to God’s call. To reach out to all our Christians we also resorted to radio Masses as well as to give the gospel readings and reflections in Facebook and WhatsApp, in this way continuing to nourish the spiritual life of our Christians.
We continued to visit the sick, and administer the sacraments of anointing of the sick, the viaticum, and of reconciliation, and to give counselling in various degrees for those who came to the parish. I can say our Christians really stayed with us during these trying times, as many of them were very much concerned about our upkeep. They came to greet us and find out how things were going; some came with food items; others with their offertory and tithes, etc. to ensure that the parish would continue to run.
Also, we continued with those programmes which were still possible such as the 3-classroom block we were building in Kaikamosing outstation, the construction of the last ring beam of the church, the tiling and other finishing touches of the toilet in the church, etc. More interestingly, we did some farming as a way of encouraging our people that if all other things have come to a stop, farming can go on, as we will still need to eat. Thus, we had a garden of pawpaws, vegetables, matoke, groundnuts, etc. It made as busy and fit enough to fight the virus as we wait in joyful hope to harvest. We also engaged in sports: football, basketball, etc. with our youth to improve the body fitness too.
In addition, we planted some trees and flowers around the house and the new school. And plans are underway to plant trees around the newly constructed church. We give credit to our predecessors who have planted a lot of trees around the parish, which we enjoy today in their absence; maybe if all of us did the same, the world would not suffer Covid-19 today.
In conclusion, we say, though the pandemic has devastated the world, there are so many good things the world can learn.
Mostly, we need to think of the effects of many things we take delight in doing. We pray for all those who have died due to Covid-19 and its affiliated causes. May they rest in peace and may the Lord save the world from this and other pandemics.
Josephat Diyuo (A Missionary of Africa from Ghana, on mission in Uganda)