Lockdown at home with my children in Uganda

5 min read
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Uganda confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 in March 2020 and like much of the world, is experiencing a nationwide lockdown, with some measures beginning to ease only recently.

Our Voices from the Field officer, James, shares his reflections and challenges of trying to work from home during a global pandemic; caring for his young children, including a newborn and a chair that’s too soft!

Like all of our Voices from the Field officers, not visiting communities is really tough, as building relationships with these people is a key part of their work.

The surprise of lockdown

When the nationwide lockdown and social distancing measures were announced to curb the spread of coronavirus in Uganda, I thought this would only last for a week or two. I had no idea that it would go on for more than two months.

The lockdown came with a number of restrictions, including the suspension of public transport and public gatherings including going to church and school.

As a population, we were categorised into essential and non-essential workers. I fell into the non-essential workers category, which meant I could not go to our office, I had to work from home.

At first it was hard for me to come to terms with being put into this category, my work involves rallying for people to have improved access to water and handwashing facilities, which are essential to stopping the spread of coronavirus.

We should never forget that water is life and sanitation is dignity, so how could I be categorised as a non-essential worker?

James visiting Nakapiripirit district in North Eastern Uganda before the pandemic. It is one of the poorest regions in Uganda.
James visiting Nakapiripirit district in North Eastern Uganda before the pandemic. It is one of the poorest regions in Uganda.

Working from home

Working from home during lockdown has had its challenges. The internet connection is poor, I can’t download documents or carry out online meetings.

If I want to have an online meeting I have to go a friend’s office nearby, where the internet connectivity is better.

I do not have a good work setup at home, the only place I can sit is a soft couch, which makes it hard for me to concentrate and sometimes even makes me sleepy! And of course all of this with my small children around is very difficult!

James Kiyimba, Voices from the Field Officer, WaterAid Uganda, carrying his seven month old baby Carlton, while Claver is busy playing games on Dad's smart phone. Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - James Kiyimba. Kampala, Uganda. April 2020.
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Bonding with my family

Every day I create a list of things to do, following this helps me to keep focussed. I include breaks and time to help my sons with their homework. Conrad is 10 and Claver is 6. I encourage them to play piano which helps us bond as a family. And then there’s our new baby, Benjamin Carlton who is three months old.

I have tried to make my children understand that they are not on holiday, and although schools are closed, teachers send homework via WhatsApp, we have a daily routine for study, watching TV and playing games. Working from home and teaching your children online from home is hard. Keeping youngsters in one place is very difficult, when they get bored, they look for things to keep them busy, including getting into trouble!

They are desperate to play with their friends who are from the same neighbourhood. It is impossible to keep children indoors for more than two months.

Being able to bond with my family, however, has been a blessing.  I have much more time to be with my children than I would have had normally. As well as helping them with their schoolwork and piano, I’ve been teaching them how to do house chores and cooking.

Carlton, 3-month-old son of James Kiyimba, resting on the couch after a warm shower. “He keeps me busy most of the time and is always at peace when he’s not hungry”.  Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - James Kiyimba. Uganda. May 2020
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

I’m now around to see baby Carlton grow, I help to feed him, bathe him and also carry him around, babies don’t want to stay in one place for long! In normal times I would leave for work very early in the morning when he is sleeping and come back late when he is getting ready to sleep. I try my best to get maximum work done during his naptimes, before I take my turn in caring for him.

Cooking with my family

I love cooking and it is always fun. Before the lockdown I did not have much time to cook for my family. I always cook my favourite dishes on weekends. Everyone joins in the cooking and it is fun.

James Kiyimba, after mixing wheat with all the other ingredients to make a dough. “To make chapati, get a large mixing bowl, add water, a little oil, onions, salt, flour and mix well, until the mixture comes together. Divide the dough into small piece ...
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

I would love for my children to learn how to cook while they’re young so that when they are on their own in the future, they won’t have any problems.

Conrad has now mastered making chapati and he loves doing it. He has also learnt how to fry eggs and cook rice.

James Kiyimba serving his son Claver, 6, the homemade chapati. “The chapati is most delicious when warm, just after flipping it”. Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - James Kiyimba. Uganda. May 2020
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

In my culture, cooking is mainly a job for women. My wife Janet loves it when I get involved in cooking and the food is always delicious!

Church and practising my religion

As a Christian, it has been my routine to go to church every Easter Sunday, but with this country wide lockdown and social distancing I have nowhere to go. Public gatherings including church services have been suspended until further notice. So, I had to go through different TV channels looking for a televised Easter church service. In all honesty, I really missed the traditional Easter Mass, where we have our live choir singing joyfully with friends and loved ones.

In these difficult times, religion is my source of comfort and inspiration. It is my remedy against despair, providing me with psychological and emotional support.

Religious gatherings in Uganda have been suspended as a measure to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Church services can only be followed on TV. “Putting religious symbols near the TV gives me the feeling of the altar in our catholic chu ...
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

I found a church service on TV, but it’s not the same as the holiness of the place. As a solution, I put my religious items near the television to make a kind of an altar.

At the back of my mind however, I know that the lockdown and social distancing are good, there is no way we can live an ordinary life during an emergency pandemic.

Holy water given at church is not hand sanitiser and prayer is not a vaccine against coronavirus. Keep safe, stay home.

James Kiyimba, Voices from the Field Officer, WaterAid Uganda, attending a televised Easter Sunday church service from his home. Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - James Kiyimba. Kampala, Uganda. April 2020
WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Missing my communities and friends

In my normal day-to-day work as Voices from the Field Communications Officer, I would usually visit some of the most marginalised and hard to reach communities in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. I feel bad that due to the lockdown, I can no longer visit these communities whose lives have been transformed by WaterAid’s supported projects for improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene education. 

James gives Mary a print of her portrait

I have many friends in all communities I visit, some of them still call me to update me on their life’s struggles. When I visit a community and take photos, I try to give my subjects some of the photos I take. Many people love this, at times these are the only photos they have in their entire lives.

Until we meet again, my friends.