What a strange time we all find ourselves in. It’s been hard to know what to say, what to post, what to write, conscious as I am that we are all living this pandemic so differently – spread across the globe in different situations, juggling different worlds, all faced with diverse challenges and unknown future prospects. For some, it has been an immense struggle, battling with illnesses, uncertainty, a lack of childcare while working full-time, extreme lockdowns, families separated across borders and a lack of freedom and fresh air. For others, it’s been an almost tranquil time of togetherness, simple pleasures and making the most of what you have, not needing more than that. The contrast is marked.
For us as a family, I have felt incredibly fortunate to have been in New Zealand throughout this period – much as we miss our family across the Tasman and hope that we will be reunited before too long! In early March, we flew back into Auckland from Sydney, Nath’s first Sail GP event of the season complete, with a full programme of events mapped out around the world for the rest of the year. The day we landed, the global pandemic was declared and I must say, I was still largely ignorant of the scale with which this was about to affect our world. Until then, it had seemed something far away, unrelated to our itinerant travelling life which had been so full, even more so since the joyous arrival of Jack last January. But within a week of returning home, we were in self isolation and the day we were due to re-enter the world, New Zealand’s five week nation-wide Level 4 lockdown began.
Guiltily, I quite enjoyed our time at home. Our wonderful friend Simon Gundry had supplied us with all the materials we needed to build garden beds and so we got to work in the late summer sun, building and planting and growing new life while Jack oversaw the process from his backyard swing, an online purchase which had mercifully arrived the morning before lockdown began. Nath and I spent hour upon hour discussing the global situation and wondering where it may lead, ruminating on how the situation would look with the benefit of hindsight in years to come and how our opinions would have changed by then. I am conscious that everyone has their own opinions on the situation – some very strong ones too – and these are obviously influenced greatly by people’s individual situations, but I will state that I think our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is incredible and has managed the situation so well. I have felt overwhelmed with gratitude to have had such strong, clear, ethical leadership at this time where it would have be all too easy to rule with fear, false information, indecision or even oblivion as we have unfortunately seen unfold in other parts of the world. We have had the opposite here and I feel endlessly lucky for that.
Over the past few months, I have kept in close contact with Dominic and Rose in Uganda. KAASO – and all schools across Uganda – were closed down from Friday 20th March in a pre-emptive move to curb the spread of Covid-19 as Uganda had very low case numbers at the time. I couldn’t help but feel optimistic as Uganda has had highly infections diseases like Ebola and Marburg to deal with in the past and has always been very successful at containing any outbreaks. In spite of the school closure, Dominic and Rose’s spirits were high. With the students gone, they took the opportunity to work in the numerous school gardens and it has been a bumper season with crops growing in abundance. Elderly members of the community come to KAASO’s gates and receive food parcels from the school gardens as the school continues to try and help their people.
In Uganda, I find that life is generally much harsher in the city than in rural settings where food grows in such abundance, but I have been heartened to receive messages from graduated Kiwi Sponsorships students in Kampala finding temporary work in spite of everything, making the most of this time while their workplaces or educational institutions have closed down. I delight in the messages I receive from Henry who, in typical Henry fashion, has been out in the community as part of an outreach team, distributing masks and hand sanitiser and helping educate people in remote areas about the dangers of Covid and the need for good hygiene and sanitation.
Another huge positive at KAASO has been that construction on our incredible two-storied school hall and classroom block has continued, with workers staying in the empty school dormitories and, while following social distancing, keeping up the momentum of their work. Funding has come almost entirely thanks to KATKiDS charity in Bermuda, led by my dear friend Rebecca Roberts who has worked tirelessly with Jennie Lee O’Donnell from KATKiDS to make this incredibly ambitious dream come true. It has been the most incredible partnership and, boosted also by a New Zealand Embassy Government grant, we have raised over $130,000 NZD – by far our greatest achievement ever! I am forever grateful to Rebecca, Jennie Lee, the NZ Embassy in Ethiopia and all who have supported us along the way. More updates to come on this!
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly international news reaches Uganda, a far cry from the isolation I felt when I first lived there in 2009. A mere few hours after it was announced that NZ would move back into Level 3 lockdown last week, I received a message from Dominic worried about the situation here as he had heard the news of our renewed lockdown. I assured him we were fine and I remain optimistic that the situation will be brought under control again here soon. As for what the long-term future holds, that of course remains a mystery but my instinct tells me we are on the right track and I am hopeful that we will soon go back to the levels of freedom we have been so fortunate to enjoy for the past few months.
I spoke to Dominic a couple of nights ago and listened with delight as he told me about the school’s new tomato and coffee gardens, the additional eucalyptus forest they have planted and the acres of sweet potatoes growing beneath the ground that will be used to feed the returning students – whenever schools reopen. Dominic is hopeful that they might be able to get in the third and final term of this year and said there is even talk of reducing the long Christmas holidays to just one week to squeeze in another term before March next year. We will see. But down the dusty dirt roads of Kabira, the overriding messages I continue to get are those of hope for the future – something that helps me to sleep at night!
As the school hall continues to take shape, the cabbages grow around the school, the pigs produce piglets and the school cow has had its first calf, we are also growing here in NZ. Not only are our garden beds now full of plentiful herbs and leafy greens, there is new life growing within me – our second child, Jack’s affectionately nicknamed sibling, ‘Jill’ (whose sex we won’t find out!) is due on Christmas Day! So that’s keeping us busy here and makes me smile every time I rub my fast-expanding belly. In the same way KAASO is using this time to grow and produce as much as they can, for us, 2020 will not be a write-off but a time of new life. I’m also using the next few months to work on my book in the hope of finally bringing my manuscript to the page before you… Watch this space!
This is a strange time, but, as ever, I am optimistic we will get through it. Sending much love to you all far and wide. Stay safe, take care and, as has come to be NZ’s new catchphrase, be kind – the world has never needed kindness so much as now.