I was only weeks away from booking my flight home to South Sudan to visit family and work on some of my grassroots projects. Before I could even set a travel date, Britain went into lockdown, and I witnessed first-hand the havoc caused by the coronavirus: people lost jobs, hundreds died each day, and social distancing and working remotely became the new norm.
If this is the impact the virus is having in Britain and so many other countries, I wondered, how is South Sudan going to cope?
With an underfunded healthcare system, a limited number of doctors and nurses, and restricted access to their services, South Sudan was already threatened by diseases such as malaria and cholera. Add political instability and a gross lack of development, and you have a recipe for a disaster.
As there were no recorded cases until April, I believed there was still time for me to do something. April came, and as soon as the first cases were recorded, the number of infections quickly rose. Within weeks, we had overtaken our East African neighbour, Uganda.
Nevertheless, I still pressed on with a project I thought would fill a gap. A lot of the coronavirus testing, treatment and response is centred on the capital, Juba, leaving other communities incredibly vulnerable.
In 2018, I co-founded a women and youth-led civil society organization called Legacy for African Women and Children Initiative (LAWANCI). With my organization’s team members on the ground in Juba and Warrap State, we devised a plan to contribute to the struggle against the virus.
Thanks to generous contributions from the South Sudanese diaspora in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, we launched a coronavirus mobilization and awareness campaign in Tonj, a town in Warrap State about 500 km northwest of Juba. Tonj is my home town, and a place that has many challenges in terms of development and communal violence.
When the funds reached my team in Juba, they ordered face masks to be made locally in Wau and prepared liquid soap, bar soap and handwash containers.
We launched the campaign on May 18, demonstrating to civil servants and the police how to wash hands and wear face masks. We donated the face masks, liquid and bar soap, and handwash containers to hospitals, the police and prison services and markets in Tonj. We geared our support towards these public places because they are potential transmission hotspots, and also did a coronavirus show on local radio.
We are working on extending the campaign to other towns in Warrap State. While the government and international donors are active in response to the virus, civil society-led responses are always important in reaching the grassroots, areas which may be missed by the international agencies. LAWANCI and many other organizations in South Sudan, will continue to do what it can.