Keeping Communities Safe


How five Building Tomorrow Fellows rose to the challenge and became public health advocates.

In late June 2021, Uganda began struggling with a terrifying spike in COVID, overrun healthcare services, and like most of the world, not enough vaccines to go around. On June 19, President Museveni announced a total lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, banning all private transport and implementing a strict curfew. After residents rushed home and students left boarding schools to reunite with their families, the roads were empty. The bustle of Kampala came to a halt, and unprecedented stillness fell over the nation. Students across the country began to wonder if they would ever return to the classroom.

But there was still work to be done. And the Building Tomorrow Fellows based in Kiryandongo District, Western Uganda rose to the challenge. Widely regarded as trusted and dynamic leaders, they were invited by the Resident District Commissioner to join the District COVID-19 Task Force.

Their mission? Reach out to underserved communities to ensure that even the most rural residents become aware of the risks and dangers of COVID-19, and feel empowered to prevent the spread to keep themselves and their families safe. One of their first, and most fulfilling, tasks was collaborating with Panyadoli Health Center in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement to support local refugee communities.

BT Fellows Tayeebwa Joshua, Ogwang Trevor, Ayikoru Comfort, Oyanga Abel and Apio Leah attend a COVID-19 task force meeting in their host community of Kiryandongo.

“Panyadoli Refugee Resettlement Camp is the most vulnerable community when it comes to district statistics on Covid-19 infections,” says BT Fellow Tayeebwa Joshua. He and his cohort used their Building Tomorrow-issued motorcycles to go door-to-door within the community answering common questions about the virus — such as “What are the symptoms?” and “How does it spread?” — and educating residents about the importance of following local health guidelines.

“After our outreach, we are sure that members in the homes we visited now understand how to keep safe,” says Joshua, “because it has been reported by the district surveillance team that the number of people putting on masks there has increased, and daily infections are reducing day in day out.”

Joshua and his colleagues are involved in both brainstorming with local leaders at District Task Force Meetings, and implementing ideas through direct community outreach and public health advocacy.
“I personally feel a great sense of relief when I see people in this community keeping safe because of our advice,” says Joshua.

The Kiryandongo Fellows conduct community outreach at a local water tap.

Through their role on the Taskforce, Joshua and his cohort have also fought to end stigmatization of previously COVID-positive individuals, who were facing discrimination in some areas of the district.

Overall, they believe this new component of their Fellowship makes them champions of public health who has the power to transform entire communities by combating misinformation through improving access to life-saving education. To them, the added title of Public Health Champion fits seamlessly into the larger mission of improving access to inclusive, transformative education. They know that healthy families are better able to support their children’s learning, and healthy learners can focus on building those essential skills in literacy and numeracy.

So, even as these Fellows traverse the district in their BT motorcycles, going door-to-door to raise awareness of COVID prevention, they also enroll students in Building Tomorrow’s Roots To Rise Ewaka interactive phone learning program. Using basic 2G household mobile phones at no cost, learners interact with Ewaka’s foundational numeracy lessons to learners through. To-date, the Kiryandongo Fellows have enrolled over 1300 learners in our virtual learning program.

“They’re such a great team!” says BT Regional Fellows Coordinator Henry Mulondo. “So far they have enrolled the most learners in our program out of all of our fellowship clusters.”

Reaching out-of-school students. Empowering underserved communities. And exhibiting relentless determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Our Kiryandongo Fellows are truly embodying our model of community-collaborative change, and proving that empowered, driven young leaders have the power to change (and save) lives.

Building Tomorrow is committed to safely and appropriately responding to the COVID-19 education crisis. Join us!

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