Story and photos by Nickie Karitas
The Covid-19 pandemic has attempted to squeeze life out of many institutions in Uganda. Some have soldiered on and are still surviving. Others are either on financial life support or have been declared dead.
Uganda Christian University (UCU) is among those still surviving despite visible differences on the main campus in Mukono. The colorful columns of flagpoles and the once melodious fountain at the main entrance now stand skeletal with a withered beauty of an era long gone. The environment appears to have accepted a state of silence, with footpaths encrusted with a leafy surrounding absence of conversation and book-laden men and women.
Canteens once bubbling with students consuming chips, peas, rice and juices are shacks deserted and collapsing wearily. The jumping red-tail monkeys and twittering birds of many species are the most prevalent residents of the Student Guild Park and the many Freedom Squares. The centerpiece Hamu Mukasa library stands composed and quietly devoid of people and laptops as if it has chosen solitude that its signage asks of students once sitting side-by-side inside.
All these are a stark contrast with what the university was, pre-Covid.
The pandemic’s busiest areas, perhaps, are the library’s e-learning lab and University Information Systems rooms as they stretch bandwidth to its limit and hum after hours to support staff and students more engaged in virtual learning that the country’s curfew and other virus guidelines permit.
“The university used to be busy all the time, but things have now changed,” Nancy Ayikoru, a security guard at the main gate, says, noting that with the current online studies, she is not sure the situation will ever go back to where it was before Covid-19.
Jim Patrick Wasswa, an engineering student, says he has never been a fan of online learning, but he now has to adapt.
“It is sad that I cannot sit with my colleagues in a lecture room,” Wasswa says. “It is sadder that I may not turn up for the graduation with my parents and march on that red carpet.”
In normal times, the Nkoyoyo Hall, named after a late archbishop, hosts lunch hour services – the UCU Community Worship – every Tuesday and Thursday. The prayer sessions would be punctuated with clapping, singing and beats off musical instruments. Supplanted with online services, the hall in the summer of 2021 is as silent as a grave.
Also in normal times, motorcycles and cars can be seen dropping off students at the university. Upon entering any of the university gates, the norm of presenting student identification cards and having bags checked by the security was never abandoned. But all that has changed.
“I am grateful to the management of UCU for its response to the situation,” Eliab Ikyiriza, a foundation studies lecturer, says. “The students’ education did not come to a standstill. Neither have they had to wait until the end of the lockdown to carry on with their studies.”
Ikyiriza adds that he has observed a steady improvement in the learners’ attitude and willingness to use the various online platforms for learning and doing assignments.
“UCU is headed for the best,” UCU Communication and Marketing Manager, Frank Obonyo, reaffirms. Speaking from his office near the Bishop Tucker building, he adds, “It is true that the lockdown has taken a toll on the university performance, but the best has been done to ensure that students’ careers are not cut short despite the pandemic. Examinations took place and students will also report for studies in the next intake.”
As UCU waits for the situation to normalize, the university’s buildings continue to stand, breathing hope. Hope that their entrances will crowd again, one day.