Now 17, this amazing young woman is determined to be a doctor – you can only imagine just how much that touches my heart! Every remarkable and proud individual we met during our time in Uganda also touched our hearts as well as our souls, connecting us to this day through the invisible threads of humanity.
However, during the last few months of this global pandemic, the situation in Jovia’s village that was already fraught with peril from ongoing economic and health challenges has become much worse. She wrote to me to express her concern about the difficulties in continuing their at-home lessons, especially when home is essentially a shack-like dwelling with nothing but the barest of minimum necessities…if even that.
As a result of the loss of instruction in a school setting, and the opportunities this afforded, many of the girls who’ve been confined to their homes have since become pregnant. It’s heartbreaking, yet also understandable. How can we expect to reach these impressionable young people and offer any hope of a different future when we cannot see them or reinforce in different ways an education that extended well beyond math or reading…but also imparted the important lessons of discovery, curiosity, community and self-worth.
Uganda is a nation of 42 million people that despite its population numbers has recorded only 1,200 cases and five deaths since March, a strikingly low total for such a large country. The reasons are not entirely clear; strict lockdown measures combined with an overreaching government structure may have contributed to these statistics that curbed virus spread earlier on…but the cost has been devastating on other levels. With just one major hospital for the entire area, the scarcest of access to medical attention along with stringent restrictions, it’s possible that many cases and subsequent deaths have not been identified. Frighteningly, we know too that some pregnant women died in labor, unable to reach hospitals because of travel limitations and restrictions. Add to this all the security enforcements that have been criticized by human rights groups for abuses and all the difficulties that existed pre-COVID have plunged this nation and its people even deeper into economic failure and exquisitely painful poverty.1
Even if you haven’t directly experienced this kind of despairing lifestyle, we can all relate in some way to the effects in our own country borne of isolation, anxiety, interrupted schooling - and fear. That’s not to say that the concern regarding this still-very elusive virus hasn’t been warranted – we simply don’t have all the answers and it will take time to unravel these unknowns to hopefully guide us as we all go forward and can ideally and safely resume our activities. There is no question that lockdown measures have caused a great many problems not only for Jovia and her community in Uganda. But it’s happened here at home too, in areas marked even before March of this year by poverty, little to no access to adequate medical care, nutritious food and more education about how to support optimal health. These are not just things that happen in other places – they happen far closer to home than we may realize.
Our own hope echoes Jovia’s words: “We trust God that things will go back to normal." We are reminded too that “normal” for this brave young woman and her family and friends is a very different normal than what many of us know. And we remain in awe of her strength, her continual dedication to pursuing her dreams and her faith that things will indeed get better. It’s a lesson for all of us, really, in the true meaning of humanity and an inspiring message to take with us into our own lives. Not easy, we know – but something that just maybe we can do together today for a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow.
Please pray for Jovia and all the at-risk girls and women, here and around the world. Pray for our world. And pray for humanity.
With love and hope for healing for all,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
1 Reuters UK: related articles and data.