By Vincent Lyn
COVID-19 has spread across the globe causing death, economic chaos and strife, disrupting the very fabric of our lives but no more than in third world countries. Uganda one of the poorest in the world with an average life expectancy of 60 years. Over the years a number of factors have impacted on life expectancy figures, including poor health services, HIV/Aids and poverty. One of the reasons for the poor take up of jobs is low wages of which the average daily wage is about $1.25. To give you an idea how how Uganda’s minimum wage compares to the minimum wage in other countries?
Uganda’s yearly minimum wage is $100.00 based on the value of the United States dollar. There are 121 countries with a higher Minimum Wage than Uganda, and Uganda is in the bottom percent of all countries based on the yearly minimum wage rate. If that isn’t enough to make you stand up and take notice with the advent of COVID-19 and the stringent effects of the lockdowns throughout the country. The local township communities along with orphanages and numerous refugee camps in Northern Uganda home to some 2 million South Sudanese are now dying from starvation.
My foundation We Can save Children has been very active in Uganda and I have personally become very close with community organizers and many orphaned children. Patrick is one such man now 24 years old. I first met Patrick Ssenyondo in November, 2016 at the Extreme High School orphanage in Namayumba, Uganda. He was a very animated young man, intelligent and very physically able. He was very much fascinated by my study of martial arts and that was apparent when I gave classes to the school on a follow-up trip. Because of family problems Patrick had to leave high school before graduating and was placed in the position of having to care for his family. Fortunately while in high school he was able to learn some basic life skills such as farming and hydroponics which enabled him to return to help his mom and the local community, continuing to help the impoverished orphans, disabled and homeless people. Before the COVID-19 pandemic he even had some offers from volunteers who had visited his local projects and initiatives he was working on. But because of the draconian measures taken by the government of Uganda the situation has gravely turned his world upside down and affected communities across the entire country.
Patrick was born in Kampala-Wakiso, Uganda. Wakiso is a district in the Central Region of Uganda that partly encircles Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. The town of Wakiso is the site of the district headquarters. Kira, the country’s second largest city and suburb of Kampala, is in the district.
A family of seven members two brothers and three sisters who are currently living with his Mother. At the age of 6 years Patrick and the family were all still living with the Father. Sadly the Father was an alcoholic which not only led him to physically abusing the family but spending whatever small amount of money he made to feed his addiction and eventually walking out on them. The responsibility was immediately placed on the Mother who worked from morning to night looking for what she could to feed the children. The meager rations had to be shared between the children and Mom that were renting a spartan dwelling consisting of two small rooms. She would sell smoked corn, tomato’s, onions and other vegetables in order to get enough money to pay for the children’s school fees and food. Patrick studied up to high school but never completed due to the fact that his Mother struggled a lot in paying the school fees and also never having enough food for the children to eat. So Patrick decided to quit school so he could work and help the family to buy food and basic necessities like clothes and necessary medicine. His Mother was only 39 years of age and she started getting sick due to the physical and mental stress placed on her and also due to their living conditions.
Presently Patrick has one brother and sister who are still in primary school and the school fees need to be paid so that they continue their studies. Pre-COVID-19 a local man of good standing in the village hired Patrick to wash and tend to his car paying him $3 a day. He used the money to buy corn flour so that he could help feed the family. As the pandemic started spreading across the globe and hitting the African continent many countries underwent sweeping lockdowns that have been extremely harsh causing famine and starvation. Most living from hand to mouth, whatever money they make that day is used to buy food for that evening. Movement has been severely restricted and no one has been allowed to leave their small communities. For the past few months they’ve been relying on the government troops who have been handing out sacks of beans. Most of which were mixed with stones and rotten inedible beans. The rise of not only domestic violence and suicide has escalated. Many single parents hanging themselves from the nearest tree because they can no longer feed their children now leaving scared and emotionally scarred children to fend for themselves.
Very recently the Mother came down with a lung infection that put her in the ICU. It was apparent that it possibly could be COVID-19 and with her already weakened immune system due to other tropical sub-Saharan diseases and the lung infection, the antibiotics and other medicines were impossible for the family to afford. There never should be a $ amount put on someones health or as in this case possible death. So I sent the money which amounted to $145 and thankfully she is getting better and pray she makes a full recovery.
Uganda was considered one of the fastest growing economies in Africa as of February, 2019 and despite progress in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, undernutrition is a significant health problem that contributes to 60 percent of deaths among children under five years of age. The rate of stunting is 33 percent and only 10 percent of children 6 to 23 months of age consume a minimal acceptable diet.
Smallholder farmers dominate Uganda’s agriculture sector, which is the country’s largest employer and provides livelihoods for most of the country’s poor. Improvements in the sector are necessary to further expand Uganda’s economy, reduce poverty and provide jobs. With favorable soil and climate conditions, agriculture remains one of the most important and promising sectors in Uganda’s economy. As nearly 80 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 30, increasing agricultural productivity and providing employment for the rapidly growing young population is critical to Uganda’s development.
Over the past 15 years, Uganda has reduced extreme poverty faster than most other countries in Africa, and the proportion of the population living on less than $1.25 per day has fallen from about 62 percent to 27 percent since 2003. Nevertheless, since 1970, about 70 percent of Ugandans have made less than $2.50 per day with little fluctuation. This signals chronic vulnerability: For every three people who move out of poverty, two fall back into it. In addition, rapid population growth has caused malnutrition rates to remain high and has tempered other economic gains. With the advent of COVID-19 this situation has exacerbated an already seriously grave problem.
No one knows what the future holds but presently the situation for Patrick and his family and the citizens of Uganda is certainly dire and I can only hope and pray that things get better. Amen
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts