It was one of those God moments. I happened to be drawn into the little shop in Mbale by a few colorful bracelets, haphazardly thrown into a case amidst a lot of crafts and souvenirs that you’d easily walk right past. But these bracelets were unique and beautiful, and I was intrigued, so I stepped inside their shop, not knowing I’d meet new friends in the process.
I met Damaris and her son David in February of this year, which seems like a lifetime ago given all that’s happened in the past 4 months. Their craft shop, about the size of a walk-in closet, is located in the central market in Mbale, Uganda. (Click here to see their beautiful, beaded bracelets!)
Damaris and David work with artisans living in extreme poverty in a village near Mbale. Theirs is a daily struggle to provide for their family and for others in the village, and selling crafts provides a meager income during the best of times. These, however, are not the best of times. Uganda has experienced the most extreme shutdown imaginable- which makes sense if you consider the impact of COVID-19. However, at 705 cases and no deaths, Uganda has the lowest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the East African region. While this is relatively good news, the situation in Uganda has been far from good.
The Ugandan government took a ruthless approach to the lockdown. All non-essential travel modes, including the widely used bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) were shut down, leaving villagers stranded. They were even discouraged from foot travel. Living on an average of $2.19/day, most Ugandans have to find food daily, so being forced to stay home threatens their food insecurity in new and horrific ways. If they can’t leave the house, then they can’t work, much less find food for their families.
The lockdown enforcement has been so brutal that an opposition member of Parliament was actually arrested when found distributing food to poor families. Politics getting in the way of the health of the people. Violence is on the rise including two bodaboda riders who were shot, and one killed, for disobeying lockdown regulations. On top of this, members of Parliament (MP’s) apparently requested emergency funds to respond to the needs of the people due to COVID-19, then used these funds for personal use. While the people were facing extreme food insecurity and starvation, MP’s were misappropriating funds that could have changed lives. All of this injustice to an already fragile population - it breaks my heart.
Damaris and David have not contracted COVID-19, thankfully. But they aren’t working and don’t have any idea when they will be able to open their stall again. My heart aches as I think about their smiles, their warm hearts and their excitement over our purchasing their handcrafted cuffs. I smile thinking of Damaris the day I had run out of shillings and asked if I could pay with a US $100 bill. She had never seen a $100 bill before, and started dancing, crying and laughing all at once - celebrating God’s goodness and grace. Her joy lit up that little stall! Was this really only 4 months ago? My heart feels full when I think of her calling me “daughter”, even though we are the same age and both have grown sons. She may lack material wealth, but her soul longed to care for me and others with her motherly love.
I pray that Damaris, David and all the beautiful people of Uganda and the world can go back to work safely soon. I pray for them to see Christ’s continued grace through expressions of love and support amidst so much pain. I pray that the next 4 months are easier than the last 4 (even when my doubts arise), knowing we can trust implicitly in God’s goodness and mercy. I look for, and continually find, God’s blessings amidst the challenges. God’s got this.
I pray for our world and for you!
Read more about the recent situation in Uganda here.