When the pandemic began last March, Tondrua Ali felt the impact in Juba, South Sudan immediately. The primary school where the 52-year-old teacher worker quickly closed, and he was among the first people in the city to lose his job.
"Everything happened too quickly and suddenly I was stuck at home. As the time passed, I felt redundant and idle," recalls Tondrua.
Within the city, movement restrictions hit many vulnerable families hard. Vegetable sellers, small roadside eateries, street vendors, and other workers could no longer earn enough income to get by.
"During the first two months markets were closed, shops were closed, and the economy was not so good. Within this insecurity, I wanted to be able to help my family, to secure them, but also I wanted to feel that I was doing something for my community and not sitting idle, that's why I committed myself to raising awareness of COVID-19," explains Tondrua.
Tondrua joined Action Against Hunger’s COVID-19 volunteer team in September. Nearly one year into the pandemic, South Sudan continues to struggle with limited COVID-19 testing capacity and a fragile health care system. Community awareness and education are among the country’s most powerful tools to prevent the spread of the virus – and volunteers like Tondrua are at the heart of this vital work.
"People here live in a communal way, where you embrace each other. It was not easy when the new message was that we should not gather or greet,” he says. “If they don't hear it from us, how are people going to know how to protect themselves?"
Our volunteers work throughout Juba to prevent the spread of the virus. At handwashing stations, they help track clean water and monitor how many people are washing their hands. They also help put together and distribute COVID-19 quarantine kits. Action Against Hunger, working alongside local authorities, provides supplies that make it easier to stay home in quarantine after receiving a positive test. Kits include a month’s worth of onions, beans, flour and other food, as well as soap, sanitary pads, chlorine tablets, basins, seeds, and coal for cooking.
In addition to helping families already in quarantine, Tondrua and our other volunteers go door-to-door around the city to show people how to prevent the spread of the virus in the first place.
"Some people don't accept that COVID-19 is real. But many of them accept that it is and they usually welcome us when we visit their homes to teach them how to wash their hands correctly and how to protect themselves. In the markets, when I move with my megaphone, people are curious and come to ask me to explain more."
The volunteers who walk the streets in Juba at times can hear shouts from the sidewalk: "We don't care about corona, we care about hunger!" The pandemic has devastated South Sudan's economy, which relies heavily on the global oil market. As a result, food prices have increased and hunger is growing.
"As a teacher, I'm used to educating people. My work ethic motivates me to go house to house creating awareness and people feel good because I'm helping the community," says Tondrua, who visits about 20 households a day and meets 80-150 people at the five handwashing stations he oversees in Gumbo, a district of Juba.
Walking through neighborhoods close to home, Tondrua and his volunteering partner, Mary, make sure no family is unaware about how to prevent COVID-19. Mary is in her forties and was motivated to volunteer during this pandemic because of her experiences living and volunteering during a cholera outbreak a few years ago. Together, Tondrua and Mary – who met through their volunteer work and discovered that they were neighbors - work tirelessly to protect their community.
"If someone wants to be a volunteer, they should be as simple as the communities they serve. They should be humble, they should be cooperative, they should be respectful, because that way you can truly pass on your message," says Tondrua. His volunteering work has encouraged him to set a new goal for his future while he takes care of his community.
"When I'm busy, I feel happy and my volunteering work keeps me like that. My proudest accomplishment is that the communities are practicing the preventive measures and they are paying attention to my message. I have seen how important awareness is to educate and protect people, so after COVID-19, I would like to study more about disaster management and risk awareness. If I learn more, then the next time, I will be more prepared to help."