COVID-19 and Christ School

4 reasons why the school closure is devastating for CSB students

   The precautionary measures related to COVID-19 swept through Uganda a month ago, like most places in the world.  During the district football tournament, hosted by Christ School, President Museveni gave his first of what would be many speeches regarding Uganda’s response to COVID-19.  CSB was in the lead 2-0 over Bubandi when word started to spread the the president declared schools were to shut down in 36 hours.  We finished the group stage of the tournament that day, earning a spot in the quarterfinals, and then began frantic preparations for dismissing students in such a short amount of time.  Do we send them home with all of their belongings, or will they be back soon enough?  Are there any books, any practice materials or new learning that we can send home with them?  How can we meet with all 357 students to communicate everything, and give them a sense of closure on this first chunk of the term?  How can we help provide them with appropriate and accurate health information as they head out into the great corona-unknown?  After many standup meetings of the leadership team, and rapid planning in less than two days, we decided to send them home with everything, except any learning materials since we literally had none.  We sent them after breakfast, but not before a school-wide assembly where we encouraged them not to waste the quarantine but to read their Bibles more, study the notes they’d been taking in class, and not only be safe and healthy but be ambassadors to their villages of hygiene and accuracy surrounding COVID-19.

     Once they all left by Friday afternoon, there was an eerie calm at CSB, considering it was mid-March, only partway through the first term.  The teachers, however, did not see this as a break, or a vacation of any sort.  They were not relieved that students were off-campus, and like many teachers around the world, they were heartbroken that their students would be gone.  How can our students be successful without the access to school for who-knows how long?  This was devastating!  The original declaration was ‘no school for 30 days’, but we knew, having been watching reports from around the world as well as East Africa, that this could last much, much longer.  It was heart-wrenching to imagine our students not at Christ School right now.  The President’s decisions have likely reduced, in dramatic ways, the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda.  There are only 55 confirmed cases, and 0 deaths, in over a month of tracking.  Christ School staff are supportive of the plans, and understand the rationale.  Yet, here’s 4 reasons why not being at school right now is similar, but very different for CSB students compared to many American students.

1. There is no such thing as online school or distance learning for these students.  Internet access is extremely limited here, and though more and more people have cellphones, they are usually not smartphones.  There are not laptops common and definitely not the necessary data required for online learning, on any device.  There are no Zoom calls, no interactive museum tours, no online library access, no email or Google Classroom, nothing.  Christ School is THE premiere secondary school in Bundibugyo, a district of about 250,000 people.  Out of 25 secondary schools, CSB ranks #1 in nearly every category, including most Division 1 students in Advanced Level and most university scholarships awarded.  For our students to lose access to this education for an unknown length of time is devastating.  

CSB Teachers banded together and spent the first several days of school closure to collaborate and create an academic packet for students.  We printed assignments, readings, study notes, and whatever we could print reasonably in about 10 or so pages per student.  In less than a week, we were ready to deliver to 5 pick-up locations in the district.  However, at that point the President had updated his COVID response for the next two weeks to include a ban on gatherings of more than 5 people, so our pickup plan was forbidden by the District Police Chief.  We waited a few weeks and then determined to get our students what they needed.  So a few staff and OB’s delivered them personally to the 355 students that live in-district.  Our students are disadvantaged enough relative to their country counterparts just by living in Bundibugyo, and with the schools in larger areas, particularly Kampala, facilitating lessons on the tv and radio, along with academic packets, we couldn’t sit by and watch our students fall behind.  The packet was good, but it was only a few weeks worth of activities.  The President has since extended the closure to yet another 3 weeks, so we’re working on a plan for a new academic packet to get our students what they need to continue to redeem this school closure in any way possible.

2.   Food is scarce, and these growing young adults are hungry.  At Christ School, each student eats three meals a day.  Occasionally we eat a “special meal” to celebrate recent accomplishments or honor students for their hard work.  This meal includes meat.  Yet in most of the community, there may be some porridge in the morning and then the one main meal of the day in the evening.  It rarely includes meat, usually that is reserved for special occasions – weddings, funerals, Christmas.  Now imagine all of these primary and secondary students returning home after school closures.  All of them need to eat.  With commerce shutting down as much as it has, family’s have less money available, yet many more mouths to feed.  Being home during this time does not mean more snacks or junk food, or Amazon Fresh or other food delivery services.  It is at school where they can trust to get food to eat.    Now, that daily need is more and more scarce for the many teenagers from Christ School.

3.   You must be in groups of less than 5, or you might get caned by the police or military.  As the President announced upcoming school closures, CSB was in the middle of hosting the group stages of our district football tournament.  There were well over 1,000 people hanging out along the sidelines and on campus.  Students were enjoying their friends, mingling, and doing what teenagers do at sporting events – sometimes watching the match, but mostly socializing.  Christ School is unique because it’s the only boarding school in the district.  These students are used to being with their classmates and friends 24/7 for most of the year.  So now to be home, where they cannot socialize like they’re used to, is challenging and disappointing.  Recently, police were caning people in the market for gathering in too large of groups while shopping.  Tear gas has been utilized, and shots into the air by members of the military who patrol the border with DRC close by.  Many students do not have cell phones, and even for those that do, money for minutes and data are difficult to come by.  There’s no Skype, no Instagram, no Zoom, no Google Hangouts.  They might see a friend walking on the road and stop and chat for a few minutes here or there, but it’s nothing like being at CSB – eating lunch together, practicing on the football pitch together, studying Physics together, hanging out in the dorm together.  

4.   Church is not live-streamed, nor recorded and posted – it’s simply cancelled.  Each Sunday at CSB, students engage, and mostly lead, a two and half hour worship service.  Many student groups perform songs and dances, the entire student body and staff worship together, and a staff member preaches from God’s Word.  Furthermore, every Wednesday we have Chapel with more singing and worship, and a shorter sermon.  This transitions straight into Cell Groups for students to engage in reflection based on the biblical text with each other and a staff member who leads it.  Now that school is closed, students will not have the structure and resource of these weekly rhythms.  But more than that, they won’t have any spiritual community to participate with as all religious gatherings are cancelled and closed.  They cannot watch a sermon online, or join a Zoom prayer meeting with members from church.  There’s no Youtube music videos or worship songs blasting on their bluetooth speakers throughout their house.  They might gather out front of their house in their compound, with their extended family and pray and sing some songs.  Which is beautiful in and of itself.  But it is certainly different than the vibrant community of faith they’d be experiencing at CSB week in and week out right now.

We trust at CSB that God is sovereign, He’s not surprised by COVID-19 and he’ll bring good and glory out of this somehow.  And we trust that closing school and ordering citizens to stay home is the safest measure to combat COVID-19 right now in Uganda.  But it isn’t without heartache in our staff and severe challenges for our students.  

Please join us and PRAY FOR CSB! 

  • That students would learn and study well during this time, preparing them for future opportunities
  • That they would find adequate food to continue developing physically
  • That they would find community amidst separation, connection during quarantine
  • That they would be kept safe physically, emotionally, and psychologically
  • That they would feel God’s presence in their lives and hearts, and worship him still through this unprecedented experience

Thank you for supporting our students at Christ School Bundibugyo!

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