“Uhunga ikikwiruka inyuma ariko nduhunga ikikwirukamo.”
This is a common saying in Kinyamulenge, which means, “It is easy to run away from something that is chasing you from behind, but hard to fight against something inside yourself.”
The virulent COVID-19 virus has infected people in 205 countries and territories – including almost every country in Africa – destroying lives, terrifying populations, and devastating economies. On March 12, Maine confirmed its first COVID -19 case, making it the 43rd state with a positive case. Governor Janet Mills swiftly announced emergency insurance measures to help all Mainers access health care related to the virus, and offered recommendations designed to flatten the curve and give the health care system a chance to prepare for COVID-19 patients. The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, Dr. Nirav Shah, provides daily updates for the public in order to help Mainers understand and respond to the developing crisis. On April 1, the count of cases in Maine had reached 344, and Maine had recorded seven deaths from COVID-19.
Immigrant leaders have worked hard to help support community members and keep them informed about how to best protect the health and safety of their families, as well as the community at large. Information about symptoms, measures to take to avoid spreading germs, and what to do if a case is suspected has been translated into many different languages so everyone can understand. Community groups have created video clips in multiple languages in order to share the latest updates with their members through WhatsApp, Facebook, and other platforms, such as Amjambo Africa, to reach those who do not follow mainstream media.
Amjambo Africa has a new COVID-19 button on the website that directs visitors to information in French, Swahili, Portuguese, Somali, and Kinyarwanda. Some of the information is in the form of videos from well-known community members; other is in written form or info-grams. We urge you to visit the site frequently, as updates are posted daily, and share widely with your networks. Our information is based on informatiaon from the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and local community leaders. We cull information from daily press conferences, meetings with different government departments such as the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services, and different immigrant-led working groups.
Culture, faith, and previous experience all play a significant role in the way each different person and community addresses dangerous times. Most recently arrived immigrants in Maine escaped horrors back home – that is why they are here. At first glance, COVID-19 may not have alarmed them as quickly as it scared other Americans who have been spared war on our soil and prior mass epidemics like Ebola, malaria, and TB. However, when the enormity of what is happening became clear, the trauma many had experienced in their home countries and on their journeys to Maine – a place they expected would provide safety – was re-triggered by the pandemic.
When news of the virus hit Mainers, they immediately went to the stores and bought up all the hand sanitizing and cleaning products. By the time immigrants realized the scale of the problem, they were shocked to find that many necessary products had disappeared from the stores. Many immigrants, just like low-income Mainers, live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to buy and stockpile food for weeks, and they worry that not everyone will have an equal chance to get through this crisis.
The spread of COVID-19 is a reminder that we now live in a deeply interconnected global village – what happens somewhere far from us can easily and quickly reach us and have a significant impact on our lives. And as in village life, we need to care for one another and share resources, so that the less fortunate among us do not suffer disproportionately.
Amjambo Africa sends hope that all of our communities – foreign-born and local-born alike – will heed the advice of experts and stay home except for essential outings, wash hands aggressively and frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, disinfect surfaces, and look out for one another. Together we can slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, thereby giving medical centers a chance to keep up with cases of people who fall sick and scientists to develop an effective vaccine against the virus.
In trust that peace of mind and stability will be established in our fine Maine community once more, before too long, we wish our friends the best.