Behind the mask in Uganda / Jackson Ninkusima, a social worker in Kamwenge refugee camp

Date 19.06.2020

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Uganda, forcing the Government to close businesses and schools, some beneficiaries of AVSI’s Graduating to Resilience Activity in Kamwenge District, in Western Uganda, thought the activity funded by USAID would be canceled. AVSI’s Community Based Trainer Jackson Ninkusima, 34 years old, brought them hope.

"Some participants told me that they thought the project had ended, but when I continued interacting with them, their hope that we still had work to do together was renewed," remembers Jackson Ninkusima. "I also think they took my messages on hand-washing and social distancing seriously because they trust me as a leader."

Working with AVSI since 2018 as part of the Graduating to Resilience team, Jackson implements field activities such as supporting participants to start Income Generating Activities and Businesses and trains them on modern agronomic practices and savings in Village Saving and Loans Associations. He is also helping the communities improve their livelihoods. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jackson had to find new ways to train and accompany the participants.

"I had to change from direct contact with participants to remote data collection and interaction," he says. "We had to split the farmer groups we work with into mini-groups to adhere to the guidelines set by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of the virus. I am also giving online business coaching to the activity participants through phone calls, supporting farming activities, and answering any questions they might have."

2020 Uganda. Jackson Ninkusima (Behind The Mask) 2
2020 Uganda. Jackson Ninkusima (Behind The Mask) 3
2020 Uganda. Jackson Ninkusima (Behind The Mask) 4
2020 Uganda. Jackson Ninkusima (Behind The Mask) 5

Implemented by AVSI in partnership with Trickle Up and IMPAQ, the Graduating to resilience’s goal is to "graduate" extremely poor refugee households who fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and vulnerable Ugandan households from conditions of food insecurity and fragile livelihoods to self-reliance and resilience. Jackson decided to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic precisely because he couldn’t leave his community alone during the crisis.

"These participants need my help now more than ever. We started a journey together, and I wouldn't be happy leaving them when they need me the most," says Jackson.When he can visit the participants, Jackson encourages them to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines in their daily activities, continue practicing farming alongside other businesses, and updates them about the project’s activities.

"In these unprecedented times, we need to adapt to new ways of working and living," says Jackson, who can even find a silver lining amid the crisis. "It feels good to be able to help others, and once this COVID-19 pandemic is gone, I will have learned new skills."