The COVID-19 pandemic arrived stealthily in late 2019, catching everyone by surprise. In East Africa, the first sign of anything ominous was the appearance of swarms of desert locusts early in the year, a phenomenon not witnessed in living memory. As governments made frantic efforts to contain the locust invasion, torrential rains helped curtail the locusts, but also caused devastating flooding. At the same time, we watched the news apprehensively as the coronavirus pandemic raged in China, and then quickly spread across Europe and North America. The first Kenyan victims were reported in March as governments moved swiftly to impose lockdowns. In one sweep, nearly all social and economic activity was brought to a screeching halt, denying many their only source of livelihood.
Meanwhile floods raged, displacing riparian communities which could only find accommodation in abandoned school buildings. Thousands were hungry and cold, even as a biting shortage of protective supplies left people vulnerable to the fast-spreading virus. The situation was equally desperate at medical facilities where the sick sought assistance, as the medical personnel were themselves highly exposed to the risk. The air of uncertainty and desperation was tense and explosive, and required immediate intervention.
It was in such a moment that the leaders of the three Quaker “umbrella” organizations—Friends United Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation (Africa Section) and Friends Church in Kenya—seized the opportunity to consult for the purpose of mounting a response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in the African region. A team comprising two leaders from each group met discreetly several times, mapping the most urgent needs and drafting a strategy for fundraising both locally and internationally with a target budget of $20,000 US dollars.
The first priority was to provide COVID-19 protective equipment and supplies for the Quaker hospitals and dispensaries in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi. The second priority was to address the needs of displaced and locked-down families in Kenya and Rwanda, including truck drivers stranded at the Kenya /Uganda border for weeks. The third intervention assisted selected pastors in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya who were severely affected by the closure of the churches. The collaborative team has also assisted ailing retired leaders, sent support to residents of Nairobi and Mombasa who were in extreme lock-down, helped Friends Theological College pivot to e-learning, and more.
The joint COVID-19 intervention has been highly acclaimed as a true testimony of the Quaker spirit which shines brightest during calamities. What was most significant was the spirit of partnership between local (African) and international Friends which enabled a credible response to suffering communities. COVID-19 has provided a rare opportunity for collaboration between the three largest organs of the Quaker family in Africa. The participants have in the process discovered each other's strengths and have resolved to harness these for the benefit of the church going forward.
According to Solomon in Ecclesiastes, seasons are for a reason. They speak to us about seed time and harvest time, wheat and tares, goats and sheep. We are encouraged to plant the good seeds; some may not yield but only those who dare to plant can ever harvest. Through the COVID-19 season, we have learned of the good seed of collaboration, and we have resolved to cultivate it. To come together is a good beginning, to work together is progress, and to remain together is success. We remain eternally grateful to all who made the COVID-19 intervention possible.
— Richard Sitati, FUM Vice Presiding Clerk