We have another entry for the “Lockdown Diaries” blog series! The world has been hard hit by the Corona virus (COVID 19) in an unprecedented way so there is no better time to launch these guest bloggers to get an in-depth look at how young people from various corners of the East and Southern African region are handling quarantine, self isolation, social distancing and other preventative measures. You will follow their experiences through their eyes as young people – their thoughts, feelings, highs and lows, and reflections.

Stay tuned for more stories!

Written by Mark Chris Kayizzi, Peer Educator with Reach a Hand Uganda

Many unwritten rules are deeply rooted in Uganda’s diverse culture and these account for what is considered the acceptable code of conduct. Collective approval is very important to many and on several occasions responsible for one’s persona. For many youths, a different social circle always calls for a different representation of personality, some more than others.

Majority of young people’s social life in the Ugandan setting is accounted for in peer circles; much of a young person’s time is spent in a school setting, with a structure of 7, 6 and 3 to 5 years in primary, secondary and post-secondary school respectively. In my time in school; I spent over 75% of day time in this structure. A cycle of class from 8 am to 4:40 pm for primary and secondary level, but it was worthwhile, because I got to spend it with peers. There are a number of changes at post-secondary levels but all in all, almost all youth lifetime is spent in contact with peers.

With limited interaction with parents or older guardians, one may suggest that youth behavior and lifestyle is largely shaped through peer social learning. During this time bonds are created, experiences shared, knowledge and information are transmitted in these small circles of trust, but what happens when these circles/routines are broken? If quickly surveyed very few youths can easily confide in their parents or guardian figures with matters regarding their sexual reproductive health or rights and even matters of life choices in general.

Almost abruptly, many youths have been placed into new routines as a result of the lockdown. This has not only affected our social intimacies, but I have also come to develop a very cordial relationship for my laptop, discovered I can spend countless hours staring a screen as much as I can spend the same time writing something or jogging my mind, for many others their “laptop relationship” may be different by many of the lockdown activities do surely rotate around technology, it may actually hide us from the world more than it connects us to the world and why not, the lock-down as a result of the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19, is a blessing and a curse.

A Curse!

Many parents are “rigid”, true to the norms and usually quick to dismiss young people’s claims to sexual or Reproductive rights to services and most especially to correct and relevant information, some are simply shy to talk while others do not think it is necessary to discuss such matters and would rather stick to conversations on economic development, academic excellence or just the recurring presidential addresses, with no readily available listening ears most youths have and at a verge of a mental breakdown once in a while, picture a young person suffering a urinary tract infection, but is not able to share openly to their one provider of financial support to seek healthcare because it will be thought that the disease is as a result of sexual transmission, I place this at the forefront because the aspects of life and lifestyle presented by Sexual Reproductive health and Rights as a concept of human rights are capable of shaping behavior and building a harmonious relationship between traditional culture and youth culture.

I have personally sat/laydown for countless hours on some days with my mind heavy with nothing but a question “what next?” I am certain many youths in the post-secondary school stage of their lives have had the same run through their minds because it’s an always recurring question in conversation among youth peers. With a dependency ratio in the country being about 103 per 100 working-age adults according to United Nations Population Fund fact sheets on Ugandan youth and high unemployment rates among youth, not because of low qualifications but simply lack opportunities, the lockdown has seen through a significant breakdown in some industries, mainly trade which is one most taken backup plans.

The lockdown has contributed a noteworthy influence communication gap in families despite being closer to each other physically, different mind spaces and priorities exist for the different members of families, for interpersonal communication to work it is vital that parties are discussing and concentrating on the same topic at a time only then can they both listen, however as a young person worries about their graduation timeline, many family heads are worried about the next meal and how they may catch up with the development setbacks, this affects the holistic state of minds in individuals and undermines the role of families in creating support systems

A Blessing!

Physical availability is one of the best ways to mend bonds, learn and unlearn, and for the lockdown, it means a chance to strike a balance between traditional norms and the modern-day youth values, the youth these days require that they make choices on their own and are allowed space for mistake, social norms are much easier to agree on if two different generations understand the importance attached to them by one another, with physical availability, widespread information sources, and sharing, myth-busting mostly in regards to SRHR is much easier, the lockdown hence provides that opportunity in the form of abundance in time.

For me and a couple of friends, this has been a time for self-reflection, goal setting and self-realization, the once full plate of social events, school programs, being socially absorbed is all now replaced with online chats, movie days, or sleep in days. The lockdown has provided an opportunity for us to realize our values and norms, outside the social bubble, we realize what choices we want to make, where we want to be and where we would like to restructure if possible.

Throughout the lockdown, I have appreciated the problem-solving capabilities of the human race, there has been a large victory in technology innovations all to make the digital space our new reality and keep up with work schedules and deadlines, many companies have had the chance through experience to appreciate technology as part of the future and a necessity.

Time in the lockdown and the pandemic has come with very many lessons,  however the main take away as a country is a chance to appreciate that most diseases are preventable and most diseases are preventable through basic proper hygiene and lifestyle choices, we also see the importance of social cooperation in epidemic, pandemic and endemic response, proper containment of the COVID -19 pandemic has involved a large structure, and this same structure can be used in the fight against the main endemic diseases in the country, with collective social efforts and better health systems.

Let us stay safe and follow the health guidelines, for health is the most true wealth.

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