Article of the week : Reaching out

27 June 2020

FEATURE | My coronavirus story 

Command leaders Lieut-Colonels Seth and Janet Appeateng (Rwanda and Burundi Command) share how their ministry has transformed during the pandemic

IN Rwanda it is almost three months since we first went into lockdown – although some restrictions have been lifted since 4 May. Life hasn’t been easy but at least we have been able to go out to the supermarket or pharmacy for essentials throughout. The lockdown has been effectively policed, with checks being made on the street as to where you are going if you are outside.

With restrictions on movement, people who have small businesses, and who earn money to buy and eat on a day-to-day basis, have particularly struggled as our time in quarantine has gone on. There are many in the city of Kigali – such as traders, pikipiki motorbike riders and drivers – who haven’t been able to work but who are also not able to go home to their villages because of the travel restrictions that were put in place to stop the spread of the virus.

Although for the past few weeks some traders and daily workers have been able to find employment, pikipiki riders still could not operate, and travel between provinces was prohibited until 1 June. Masks must be worn at all times, and the number of passengers in public transport vehicles has been reduced as a preventative measure. This makes it difficult to plan journeys. Our employees are often not able to report to work on time because of these restrictions.

We have two corps in the city and the people in their areas have been continuously asking the corps officers for support. This has been difficult for the corps officers who were also struggling themselves and did not have the means to help even those in their immediate communities, despite a deep desire to do so. We are thankful that International Headquarters has been able to support us in accessing project funding so that we can prepare packages of food items for some of the most vulnerable people, especially those close to our city corps.

We have also been able to contact the executive secretaries of local government – those with administrative governing responsibility for sectors and cells – who gave us additional lists of people known to be among the most vulnerable in their areas.

During three days at the end of April we were able to distribute 350 packages of food containing rice, maize flour, beans and oil to vulnerable families in Batsinda and Kimironko within the Gasabo district. In addition to the food we were able to share soap and some Covid-19 educational flyers. Additional flyers were also given to the government for its awareness efforts.

To avoid a large gathering of people, teams of around ten – comprising Salvation Army officers, sector executive staff and community cell leaders in Gasabo – went from house to house, distributing the packages according to the lists. In a few cases where people couldn’t be reached, the packages were given to the local chief to be distributed. Some were also kept to be distributed by corps officers in other communities.

Recently we were able to extend our support by supplying hand-washing materials to corps and centres, since we have come to realise that much more awareness is required in terms of sanitation in times like these. As things stand, however, our schools will remain closed until September and there is no news concerning when churches will be allowed to reopen for services and other gatherings.

We continue to be concerned for our officers in the field who, with the lack of tithing income, are struggling to manage yet also want to serve their communities. In a time when isolation is increasing due to the fear and stigma associated with potentially having the virus, more than anything they desire to visit their comrades as a means of encouragement. But without protection, and under strict quarantine rules, they have not been able to do so.

We have been able to reach out to some people with Bible messages and church services via social media and other online platforms, particularly during the Easter period, but internet connection is limited outside the city  and fewer people now have money to buy mobile phone data to stay connected.

In the meantime the telephone continues to be our lifeline, with regular calls to colleagues, staff and corps members enabling us to keep together and to check on each other.

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