San Diego Diplomacy Council was proud to kick off our Global Leaders Online Forum series last week with “COVID-19 in Africa: Select Stories from IVLP Alumni”. International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumni Dr. Dickens Howard Akena (Uganda) and Ms. Françoise Mukuku (Democratic Republic of Congo) shared their insight on the impact of COVID-19 on their respective countries and communities.
Dr. Akena, a psychiatrist, described the uncertainty and fear felt in Uganda regarding the pandemic, giving high marks to the central government for quickly restricting the public’s movement to limit the spread of the disease. He also spoke of the great mental health challenges the community faces in terms of psychological distress and restricted access to mental health facilities and services.
Ms. Mukuku, a women’s and LGBTQ+ rights activist, praised the decision of her government not to impose mandatory confinement, emphasizing what that really means for the population where “some people do not have homes or they are not welcome in their families’ homes… what it means to stay inside, to stay home and to clean hands every day when they do not have running water – when they do not have clean water.” She also noted a rise in sexual and gender-based violence, the lack of accountability of police or security forces, and a shortage of food in Kinshasha, which is currently cut-off from other food-producing regions in DRC.
Both speakers described the personal and professional impact of their visit to the U.S. under IVLP. Dr. Akena fondly recounted walking past the White House multiple times, astonished that people can do so in the U.S. He shared that he now screens for and diagnoses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in his home community – a direct result of his meetings with mental health professionals in the U.S. Ms. Mukuku credited her IVLP experience with “lifting her spirit”, inspiring her and convincing her that progress can be made toward minority rights.
The webinar wrapped up with the reading of a Pueblo prayer by Mattheus Stephen – the same prayer that he shared with Ms. Mukuku and her fellow delegates during their 2016 IVLP visit to San Diego.
See the complete webinar recording HERE.