Coronavirus: Ugandans abroad speak out on coping with crisis

Saturday March 21 2020


By Esther Oluka

Trapped: As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues creating havoc across the world, Esther Oluka reached out to a few Ugandans currently staying, working or studying in different countries to find out how they are coping amidst this pandemic. They give us an insight of their present environment, how they are protecting themselves from getting infected, their worries, hopes, among their aspects. Here are their personal insightful stories.

Rosalynn Nankya, PhD student, Seoul, South Korea

Here, you can’t walk without a face mask

It’s very hard not to be scared with this pandemic spreading across the world. It has been a challenging past couple of weeks but fortunately enough, South Korea is doing an incredible job in tracing, testing and treating coronavirus cases.

Undeniably, my daily student life has changed. Being a PhD student, I am expected to attend school as usual.
However, since the outbreak, I walk to campus covering a distance of about 6km. I walk back to my apartment after the lessons have ended.

Before the outbreak, I used to take a train via an underground subway. That is not possible at the moment after a strong advice was issued that we should all avoid crowded places. During weekends, I stay indoors and always avoid any kind of social gathering. For facemasks, we are expected to wear them at all times. At my university, you can’t be allowed to walk in without a mask.


They are available at local pharmacies and post offices. Luckily in South Korea, we have not experienced the level of panic shopping like the ones in European countries. At least here, local stores and supermarkets have enough supply of items.

The queues are sometimes long, like at pharmacies as experienced on the day the facemask purchasing rule was implemented by the government. Regarding the aspect of coping, well, since I am currently working on my research, it’s taking all my concentration span. In a way, this is helping me not to focus much on the news around the world.

I am also fortunate that my different family members from back home are constantly checking up on me. I always assure them I am alright. I am doing the best I can to stay healthy and safe.

Jonathan Ochom, Postgraduate student at Swansea University, Wales, UK

A big disruption to academics, social life and business

At first, it sounded far-fetched but thanks to global interconnectivity, within weeks, a virus that originated from Hubei Province in China, had finally reached one of the most beautiful places in the United Kingdom, Swansea. Swansea is a coastal town and the second largest city in Wales.

By the time I shared this story [March 18], there were 149 confirmed cases of the coronavirus pandemic in Wales, and two deaths in Swansea, according to the BBC. At Swansea University where I am undertaking postgraduate studies, one case has been confirmed.
As an interim measure, the university has suspended face-to-face teaching, supervision and assessment. It has been a roller-coaster!

As a student, coronavirus has been such a big disruption to academics, social life and business in Swansea. The notion of online classes sounds fancy and convenient, but the reality of non-physical interactions with lecturers and fellow students is really miserable.
Swansea has fresh air, with breath-taking and mind-relaxing parks but suddenly, I cannot enjoy these spaces freely.

I spend most of the time now switching from my bed to the study table, bathroom, kitchen and bed.
At times, it is nerve-wracking. The fact that suddenly I cannot shake a colleague’s hand or even just cough or sneeze without raising eyebrows, is terrible.

The situation is exacerbated by the general public reaction which, for example, can be demonstrated by the panic shopping across Swansea. A visit to the nearby stores is telling of paranoia that is prevalent.
The toilet paper stands are empty in all stores. The closest one can find is kitchen tissue.

The same is true for hand sanitisers and medicated wipes. People have bought off all disinfectants. Food sections in supermarkets are now very less stocked too.
Unlike in the past where items such as chicken, beef, pork, beans, rice, pasta were flooding shelves, many times with various discounts, this is no more.

Some stores now ration the number of items one can buy in a bid to ensure fair distribution of essential items.
But all is not lost. Just like everyone else, I am leveraging technology to keep things under control.
Through WhatsApp, I am in touch with fellow Ugandans here and this solidarity helps to diffuse the physical loneliness.

I talk to my wife every day and regularly to my mother, brother and friends to keep them calm too.
Additionally, most university services are fully functional electronically so I can, for example, undertake my research for various assignments flawlessly via the e-library.

Lecturers are readily available to provide academic support electronically, so I am almost certain, the main objective of being here will be achieved.

For now, I live one day at a time; taking all precautions, hoping for the best but at the same time, preparing for the worst. The university and the government are doing their best to ensure we are all safe until a permanent solution to this pandemic is found. My hope is alive!

Maurice Ochol, Lives with family in Los Angeles, California

Toilet paper, milk and water have been cleared off the shelf

The situation is tense. People are not only worried but are also suspicious of one another. The streets are deserted. One would think it is a public holiday. The majority of public places here, including restaurants and schools, are temporarily closed.

So, people stay inside and watch movies and news. The bulletins are not making things any better. Every now and then, there is constant news updates on coronavirus. They keep mentioning that the worst is yet to come.

Meanwhile, there are a few open stores and for this reason, whenever people have the chance of getting out of their households to do shopping, they buy almost everything in large quantities. Items like toilet paper, milk, bottled water are the ones which have been mostly cleared off the shelves. Like me, my wife (Tricia) is also scared and that is why we are all taking the precautionary measure of staying indoors.

There is nothing like going outside to pass time. We are all confined indoors, full time. When the coronavirus scare really started, we stocked enough essentials but as I speak, we have run out. Tricia and I are now planning on going to one of the stores either very early in the morning or in the middle of the night when the trucks are supplying stores. It’s a tactic some people are using to get better deals.

There are chances of not getting what you want when you go shopping during regular hours, for example, lunch time. But, in all honestly, a number of Ugandans staying here, including myself, did not expect such a crisis. But at least everyone is taking all extreme measures to stay safe.

Sandra Amongin, Student, Zhongnan Varsity of Econ &Law, Wuhan, China

The place is quiet

Quarantine in Wuhan started in late January until today. Quarantine means no movement. Everybody stays inside.
The people allowed to freely move are the medical personnel, government workers distributing food to locals and security personnel.

Most people are working from home. And for this particular reason, almost everything is being conducted online, including studies. Since it is a pandemic, there is obviously fear in this place.

The place is so dull and quiet, something I find really weird. It’s as if there is no life here. Some students are coping with this quietness by playing loud music within their respective halls of residence.

Personally, I have been confined indoors from around January 23. The only time I get out is probably to do laundry. Since our movements are limited, the university set up an online shopping system for us. We order for whatever we need using the Internet.

And if there is any crucial need to leave the university halls of residence for whatever reason, we are required to wear facemasks, as well as change them from time to time. Recently, we were provided with thermometers (for regularly monitoring temperature) and vitamins (to boost the body’s immune system. Otherwise, life here is mostly spent indoors.

Most of the time, I am working on my research and other university assignments online.
My family members, especially my parents back home in Uganda check on me from time to time, so in a way, this is helping me cope.

I am happy the Ugandan government came in and helped us (students) by giving us some financial assistance because life was getting tough. The money came late, but at least it arrived. Each Ugandan student in Wuhan received about 4300 RMB (Chinese currency, about Shs2.3 million).

Obviously, some Ugandan students say it is not enough but personally, I am happy that we at least got some help from home. The prices of commodities were getting really high to the extent that some students were going into debt in order to survive. They were borrowing money from either university or friends. So, in a way, the aid from home helped some students clear their arrears.
Overall, I feel the university has done everything within its power to ensure that we are all fine.

Joy Winnie Aketch, Super model in New York, United States

Fashion, modelling industry is on hold

Everyone here, like elsewhere in the world, is scared and stressed about the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading.

A number of people here are working from home. In my field of work, modelling jobs, including fashion shows and castings, have been put on hold until further notice. And for this reason, I have been going outdoors less often and trying my best to follow the laid precautions to be as safe as I can.

Masks, sanitisers, as well as cough and flu medicines are out of stock in some stores and pharmacies. Even items like toilet paper have been running out of stock in most stores.

Some people are purchasing crucial items like sanitisers in the black market and which are abnormally expensive.
For my own safety, I am using medicated hand wipes and avoiding hand-face contact. I am also not giving out any hugs currently. I am keeping my hands to myself.