When 2020 started, not a person in the world correctly guessed how COVID would affect us all. It has brought millions of people worldwide down to a new standard of living. Our students are now behind in all academic areas and it has changed the way we will look at new sicknesses that we encounter. Uganda was not exempt from the challenges that everyone everywhere faced during the pandemic.
There were immediate concerns when the pandemic was first declared in March. Uganda is a country whose culture embraces and depends on physical touch in everyday interactions—something that doesn’t mesh well with controlling the spread of a highly contagious disease. Little did we know, it was the start of something so much bigger than we could have ever imagined. Up to this very day, the entire education system in Uganda is full of uncertainty. As a ministry with the primary business of educating students and interacting with families, this is particularly challenging for Simone’s Kids.
In the last week of March this past year, the government shut down all primary schools, high schools, colleges, and vocational institutions. It was initially a one-month shut down but, similar to other places around the world it continued…and continued…and continued. As of now, the majority of our students have spent 11 full months without attending a single class.
In Uganda, there are classes that are considered “candidate” classes which include promotional exams that are governed by the Ministry of Education. These are similar to in the U.S. where students must pass exams to be promoted to middle school, or 8th grade going to high school, or finishing high school to go to college. Thankfully, the government allowed candidate classes to resume last fall, under strict operating procedures. While we are truly grateful that those students have been able to study, we are also extremely worried for the other ¾ of our student body who are soon approaching a full year without school. This is alarming for several reasons, but one of the biggest is because of our students’ home lives. Most of our students have families that survive on agriculture, and most parents and guardians are not educated past an elementary level. Studying and catching up at home is not a likely scenario for most of our students.
We are expectant that our teachers are going to do everything in their power to catch our students after so much lost time, but we don’t know what system the government is going to put into place to promote/retain students. The president has proposed that the semi-candidate classes will resume on March 1st allowing three (of twelve) of our remaining classes to get back to school. Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we will be allowed to continue opening up more classes.
While COVID has really been a burden for our school at first glance, we have also been able to witness great things. We have seen God provide financially for our organization time and time again. Because of this, we have had the opportunity to do some pretty amazing things on and off campus during the mandatory “break”.
We were able to make food deliveries around the community for our most vulnerable families. We were also able to construct an extension to our boys’ dormitory at the high school, place concrete pavers all around our primary school walkways, all while providing a partial salary to all of our staff who were not able to work during the pandemic. In the US, we were able to hold a small gala to celebrate 10 years of ministry for Simone’s Kids where we raised enough money to purchase new land.
With the government starting to make concrete plans for our students to get phased back into learning, we are optimistic that once again we will see God’s hand during this new year.