Clares in Uganda 8 September


Hello everyone!

First, we want to thank those of you who were praying after our last brief email, for your prayers and kind responses.

Praise God, we did make it out of Kampala (the re-lockdown was fortunately another rumour) and we got everything we needed whilst we were there. We then had a special few days in Murchison Falls National Park on the way back to Arua.

This is one of our longer emails to update on all aspects of life here, but we are looking to send more regular emails with simple, short prayer points as we know many of you are praying for us all regularly. Our aim is to do a longer update around once a month and the shorter prayer points once a week.


Kampala, car time and crocodiles

Over the last week, we went as a family on our first trip to Kampala since we arrived back in March. The main purpose was to do the personalisation of the immigration passes for Verity and the boys, but we also wanted to get Verity’s Ugandan driving license sorted, do some shopping for house furnishings and eat some ice cream…

Thankfully, we succeeded on all counts.

Staying in a spacious AirBnB, we soon discovered that the boys have inherited their father’s aversion to shopping, although without their father’s restraint when it comes to complaining loudly... Nonetheless, we survived the necessary administration and shopping in Kampala and made it through to our planned 3-night stay in Murchison Falls National Park.

This was our first holiday since our arrival 6 months ago and it proved to be a really special time, if punctuated with challenging behaviour from the children. It was the first ever safari experience for Tom and the boys (Verity having completed several other safaris previously) and we were blessed with a cut-price stay in the idyllic Murchison River Lodge on the banks of the Nile.

We enjoyed a boat trip up the river to Murchison Falls (the boys spotted 201 hippos and 12 crocodiles, the latter of which excited Eli in particular), enjoying a game drive the next morning with a local ranger on which we saw elephants, giraffes, many types of antelope and a range of other exciting fauna.
Eli and Simeon particularly loved the boat trip
It was a really special time, Verity and I particularly enjoyed sitting in the dark on the balcony once the kids were asleep, listening to the sounds of the park around us and looking at the stars, marvelling in this small portion of God’s creation.

When the time came to drive back to Arua, the boys were sad to leave, but poignantly Ezra declared that Arua ‘felt like home now’ and that he was also looking forward to getting back.
So here we are again in Arua, not so much rested but somewhat refreshed and certainly ready to get stuck in to what God has prepared for us for the rest of this year. Tom is back to work, including the weekly trips to the rural health centres and it feels good to be back with the reassuring presence of our extended family - Noble (our watchman/gardener) and Milly (our help around the home and unofficial language teacher).
The view of the River Nile from Murchison River Lodge

New Neighbours

Aside from our time away, life here has continued in the same irregular rhythm, with some constants through the weeks. We’ve enjoyed the 6 week school holiday and are, in theory, ready to start school tomorrow. Eli will be doing more structured work as he goes into year 1 so the teaching dynamics will be a little different. Ezra’s behaviour has been very challenging lately and Verity is slightly dreading becoming his teacher again but we’re trying to stay positive!

We’ve continued to spend time with people in our neighbourhood - the local shopkeepers and some local families, mainly children. We also now have some more immediate neighbours who moved in this week. We’ve so far only met some of the children, who’ve been very keen to come and play as much as possible and they’ve brought friends who’ve loved playing with all the boys’ toys. These are our first South Sudanese neighbours - there are a good number in the community here - and we’re looking forward to learning about their culture too. It’s lovely for the boys to have some local friends who can easily pop in and it’s been great to see Eli in particular engaging much better with the local kids, after struggling for the first few months.

Our cultural insight this week has been learning about the way elections work here. They held primary elections for the ruling party MPs this week and as the two most popular candidates both live in this area, the campaigns have been fairly intense. They seem to involve a lot more noise than elections back in the UK and some confusion over who supports whom, and which people just like to join in and shout, sing and beep their horns for the fun of it.

Campaigns involve open money handouts in return for alleged support, although a good number of younger people we’ve spoken to don’t vote. We’ve found it fascinating and Ezra has been really interested in the whole process too. Unfortunately there have been a few deaths nationwide and likely many more unreported, due to election-related violence, including one of the local boda (motorbike taxi) drivers, when he was driving his bike around in a precarious position to gain attention for one of the candidates. Milly came running back from being in line for the vote when the authorities started ‘seriously beating people’ - possibly to do with one of the candidate’s agents double counting votes - so her vote wasn’t counted.
Joel with 2 of his favourite things - a wheelbarrow to sit in and a jackfruit to eat...

Crowded consultations

Tom’s work has continued to take shape, with his weekly trips to rural health centres gradually exposing him to the reality of healthcare in communities here. Each time he goes, there are several things that need follow-up to establish the right way of moving forward locally.

The process of seeing a patient here takes much longer than in the UK, partly due to the language barrier and translation, but also because the patients seem to attend with 5 or 6 problems on which they’d appreciate a doctor’s opinion. This is understandable, but it means that it’s proving very difficult to see anyone in less than 30 minutes. As such, we have moved away from advertising to the community that the doctor is coming, preferring to book patients in that have been seen in the health centre but for whom a doctor’s review is appropriate. This is also leaving more of an opportunity to do some staff training rather than spending all his time in the health centre seeing patients.

Thank you to those of you who prayed for us and for the family of the 11-year-old who died shortly after I had seen him before our trip to Kampala. Tom is planning to write more of a reflection on this in the next CMS link letter, so we’ll add a link to one of these emails once the link letter is out for those who don’t receive them.

Away from the clinics, Tom has been working with Heather Sharland in the Diocese Health Department to complete a project around infection control, having delivered the COVID and infection control training to health centre staff. The health centres have been restocked with supplies of personal protective equipment and we have developed some educational resources (posters and leaflets) to help inform the attending patients on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There have also been some community workshops on liquid soap and delivery of handwashing stations for vulnerable families.
The boys are always excited to visit David and Heather Sharland down the road, who are also mission partners with CMS

COVID cases creeping up

In terms of coronavirus, now is the time when the number of cases is starting to rise significantly, with between 50 and 200 confirmed cases most days, as well as a handful of deaths each day. The total case number as we write is 3,667 with 41 deaths and around 4,000 to 5,000 tests being done per day. Community transmission is now well and truly underway and in one sense, the outbreak here in Uganda feels like it is just beginning.

Equally, the population have been managing with some level of restriction since March and there is a definite fatigue in people’s willingness to wear masks, wash hands and stay at a distance, particularly having not registered many deaths until very recently, such that many people are not convinced that the virus is anything to worry about, particularly compared to Ebola. Add to this mix the potential political agenda to open things up (with presidential elections coming up in early 2021) and there is the potential for the outbreak to become a huge problem over the coming months.

At the moment, many of the initial lockdown restrictions have been lifted and the only few that remain are: gatherings of no more than 10; a curfew from 9pm; closure of the airport; ongoing suspension of schools, universities, places of worship and sport. It looks as though these restrictions are soon to be gradually lifted too, with the airport reported to be opening for international flights from October and churches receiving operating procedures to prepare themselves for reopening.

We will keep praying for wisdom for the leaders here in minimising harm (from both COVID and ongoing restrictions) in their decision making.

Prayer points

  • Pray for Ezra and Eli as they go back to the daily rhythm of homeschooling, that they enjoy learning together
  • Pray for Verity in negotiating some of the challenging behaviour in the older 2, particularly whilst looking after the younger 2! For patience, wisdom and kindness to fill her by God’s spirit.
  • Pray for wisdom and protection for the in-charges at the health centres – James, Gilbert, Jocelyn, Comfort, William and Rebecca – as they oversee their health centres at a time when COVID cases are on the rise
  • Pray for wisdom for President Museveni and the government in how to minimise harm when considering the lifting of restrictions here in the face of increasing case numbers

Thank you!

Our mailing address is:
Clares in Uganda
PO Box 129