We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

COVID19 in Tanzania

As Embassy memos and High Commissioner announcements fly about, foreigners flee and borders close and flights cease … as coronavirus numbers escalate and restrictions increase worldwide, we in Mwanza are actually currently in a comparably peaceful situation. Of course we understand this could simply be the calm before the storm, but we can always hope and pray that Tanzania will escape the disaster inevitable if Coronavirus spreads here.

So what is the situation in Tanzania? At the time of writing there have only been 20 confirmed cases of coronavirus. We have no way of knowing how many people have actually been infected and there is much uncertainty and rumours abound! Testing can only be done in Dar es Salaam and there is a limited supply of kits. However, it does seem that here in Mwanza, things are relatively calm with no extra overloads in local clinics or hospitals. All schools and colleges have been closed and public gatherings banned, with the exception of churches and mosques which have been allowed to remain open (stirring much debate). Restaurants and hotels have closed. Handwashing stations are now all over town. Social distancing is encouraged but in reality pretty impossible. There is little chance really, with people living almost on top of one another and commuting on crowded local buses. And avoiding crowded markets is impossible for sellers who cannot afford not to work and buyers who live hand to mouth … and don't own a refrigerator so could not stock up anyway. (I am actually right now trying to picture someone attempting to stick lines of tape 2m apart in the mud of the market!)
Mama Benita has a handwashing bucket here at the market, 
...but she couldn't donate any soap with it.
But seriously, we are acutely aware that the risk to people's lives here is as much in possible economic lockdown as it is in the virus itself. The economic effects of a lockdown could cause far more deaths and distress through loss of food supply and medical care than the deaths of the virus. With only 20 official cases of the virus, many people around town mock the virus (as a "white disease") and laugh or get offended by the precautions, but at the same time, the economic effect has already hit and the fear is real. Most have no healthcare, no savings, no paid sick leave, no social security. People here depend on one another. Relationships are vital and the interdependency in community is life. People here do not have the luxury of being able to "work from home" or have a zoom meeting or an online chat. We can clearly see that the situation here (as in much of Africa) is very different to the west. And a one-size-fits-all solution won't work.

But solutions are needed. And prayer for wisdom for African leaders at this time is important. Economic issues aside, with hospitals here so very limited in number and facilities, there would be little chance to stem the tide if the virus spread.

So with prevention being the number one focus right now, we are doing our best as an EI team to do all we can to share the facts about COVID19 and teach about prevention (there is much false information and superstition to confuse the truth). Victoria, with her background in public health and current studies on COVID19, ably prepped our team and now, while we still can, we are working with certain people in our projects who can take the teaching forward into the villages and communities we are connected with. Bhatendi was in Nyamililio last Sunday, Elisha has been on Ukerewe Island this week, Emmanuel and Vicky have been around Kome Island, we are going with Peter to Chabakima tomorrow... With the generous help of Ivy Church in the UK, we are equipping all our partner churches with handwashing buckets complete with posters and stickers to use and share in their community. And as we can get more buckets and posters, we want to assist more widely through the TAG church. On the positive side, this is a brilliant opportunity to emphasize much of what we are already trying to do as EI across Tanzania. The importance of clean water supply, the importance of hygiene and sanitation is nothing new and meeting the challenge will yield lasting benefit.
One of the buckets in use on Kome Island!
At the end of our COVID19 training, we were challenged by our Tanzanian colleagues to explore the role of faith and corona as they respond to the many questions being asked from city churches and people in the villages they work in. So Tim led us last week to explore this. We started by looking at the relationship of faith and fear, the crux of which is found in the centre of Psalm 23, "I will fear no evil for you are with me." Fear can be a good and appropriate emotion, but we do not need to be gripped by it, with our faith in God as Father and Jesus as our Shepherd. Indeed last week in the hospital (as you may have read in our last post) was a lesson and reminder to us personally of what our faith in God means, with our refuge solely in Him.
A new handwashing bucket ready to distribute! 
With prevention information on one side and Psalm 23:4 on the other. 
We looked as a team at the working relationship of faith and wisdom (it's not either/or, it's both together). Washing your hands or social distancing doesn't mean you are afraid and without faith; it shows wisdom. We see in the Bible how the Old Testament law taught on isolating and cleanliness. This is age-old, wise advice. We finished by looking forward in this time of corona, looking at what can grow in us and through us as faith-filled people. Our faith can be strengthened, our goals re-set, not according to selfish desires, but God's agenda. As a church we can become stronger, more united and compelled by love to care for the vulnerable, the sick and the dying.

And so, as we distribute buckets and offer coronavirus prevention teaching, (we are taking advice from medical professionals here and doing it as safely as we can with handwashing and social distancing), we want to encourage the people we work with, in order that their faith would be strengthened, and that they would reach out in faith to their communities in appropriate ways.

People on Kome Island reading the posters put up at the church building.
Particularly on the island, there is very little information and 
Emmanuel has been doing a great job teaching and distributing posters and buckets!

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