I had planned to use this quarterly message as an opportunity to celebrate the opening of Hope Community Primary School in Uganda, which many of you generously helped us to achieve. We will come back to that story later. As with so many other things, the coronavirus pandemic is interrupting our “regularly scheduled programming.”
In an article I read recently about the steady march of this pandemic toward populations in the developing world, the words of one Pakistani woman eloquently summed up the dilemma faced by so many: “We don’t know if we will get this virus,” she said, “but what I do know is that we get hungry three times a day.”
For most of us in the West, the protocol for defeating this virus has been social distancing, including the shutdown of most businesses, and stay-at-home orders from many government leaders. This would be the best strategy in the developing world as well. However, in the countries where we’re serving, a large percentage of the population lives on less than $2 per day, often working as day laborers if they can find work at all. In such an environment, it is today’s work that produces today’s food. Supplies on hand will run out in days, not weeks, and income will need to be generated to buy more. Staying at home is therefore a luxury many will feel they cannot afford. Like this Pakistani woman, they will need to weigh the risk of contracting and spreading this virus against the urgent need for life’s daily necessities; quite literally, the need to eat.
As of this writing, the virus has only recently arrived in the countries where we are serving (35 confirmed cases in Zambia, 33 in Uganda, and 23 in Ethiopia), and the governments of each nation have put restrictions in place to mitigate its spread. Schools will be closed for the next several weeks at minimum, public transportation is banned, and many types of businesses are shut down. As I have watched the healthcare systems of wealthy nations strain under the weight of a surge in infections, I have shuddered to think of the effect a similar outbreak would have on the families we are serving in Africa. Prevention is most definitely the best cure. Yet people need to eat. It’s a real and urgent dilemma.
With this background in mind, I want to inform you of what we are presently doing, and how you can pray. In short, we need your prayers and we need your ongoing financial support through this crisis, if you are able. This situation is affecting many of us financially, to be sure. At the same time, your ongoing support will position us to assist those who may quite literally face the choice between following wise social distancing policies or putting food on the table today.
Here are a few things we are doing:
- In areas where we run schools, we have stored pre-purchased food supplies and reallocated funds budgeted for school lunches, to distribute food as needed in the weeks ahead.
- We have made funds available from our General Fund, should the purchase of additional emergency food supplies become necessary.
- In each of our program areas, we have purchased bulk quantities of soap for distribution to our sponsored families, to enable them to follow more frequent hand washing guidelines.
- Our indigenous teams are maintaining contact with sponsored families by phone (we thank God that pay-as-you-go cell phones are now ubiquitous even in rural areas!), ensuring that they are aware of preventive protocols and that we are aware of their unique needs.
And here are a few ways you can pray:
- Please pray against the spread of COVID-19 on the African continent, especially in the communities where our children and families live.
- Please pray especially for the many elderly grandparents who function as guardians for our sponsored children. They would be the most susceptible in an outbreak, and our children would be left more vulnerable by their loss.
- Please pray especially for our children and guardians who are HIV+. Mercifully, the antiretroviral therapy they already receive may function as a preexisting defense against this virus, but please pray specifically for their protection against this new threat.
- Please pray that the Lord would give us wisdom to know how to intervene if the virus does spread.
- Please pray that the Lord would keep our families safe and enable them to abide by wise preventative policies.