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Corona-stranded in Norway and Very Far Away From Home

They were in Norway to work, but became stranded in a foreign country. Now they are glued to the news, following how the pandemic is developing in their home countries.

By Anne Håskoll-Haugen, freelance journalist

Translated by Susanne Hoggen Kippersund, Norec


Almost 60 youth from Africa and Latin America have come to Norway on exchange through Norec (formerly FK Norway).


Now their stay in Norway has become something quite different from what they expected — their workplace has been closed or turned into a home office. They must all make the difficult decision whether to return home to their family or remain in a foreign country — without any idea of how the crisis will develop.


Wife and four children in South Africa

Jacob J. Mhlapeng from Johannesburg in South Africa is one of them.


With a wife and four children back home in Johannesburg, music teacher Jacob J. Mhlapeng is wondering every day whether it was right of him to stay in Norway.


– Everything has happened so fast. At the start, I had no idea it would become so serious, I imagined a couple of weeks and that everything then would be back to normal. Therefore, I chose to stay in Norway, says Mhlapeng, who is in Norway to work as a music teacher for a school band in Bergen.


He, as everyone else on exchange in Norway, were offered to leave for home once the pandemic broke put.


But at the same time, the music teacher worries about exposing himself to infection on the way home. Maybe he will infect his family when he gets home because he must be in quarantine. It is not worth the risk, he feels.


Uncertain future

Mhlapeng was going to work in Norway for one year. Now his future is uncertain.


– It is all very stressing, I worry about my family, my economy and how this will affect South Africa.


His wife works in a restaurant, but has been laid off temporarily and has lost her income. South African authorities have promised to help businesses financially, but Mhlapeng says they have not received any support yet. Now she is at home with four children.


– In South Africa, we already have huge problems with violence, crime, and alcohol. I fear this will get a lot worse now that markets and shops are closing, and many lose what little they have.


– Brings back bad memories

South Africa has enforced firm restrictions to control the spread of disease, consisting of a three-week long “lockdown” and prohibition on alcohol. South Africa has the best healthcare system on the African continent, according to WHO. Yet, there are only 1000 intensive care unites for a population of 56 million people, writes the British newspaper The Guardian.


– The military is patrolling the streets now. It brings back bad memories for many of us in South Africa, Mhlapeng explains to Bistandsaktuelt.


I am anxious to see what I will return to in August, he says.


– A big thanks to social media!

Pauline Kimonda Kibet (in red) and Wyclife Ochieng Wamira are from Kenya.


– Even if this situation is without comparison, we must make the best out of it, says Pauline Kimonda Kibet.


Together with her colleague Wyclife Ochieng Wamira she came to Norway to work at the youth centre of Bærum Red Cross. Both have a background as Red Cross volunteers from their hometown in Kenya.


Now they live together in an apartment and are glad to have each other. As a result of the corona restrictions, the youth centre has decided to close down all the activities they have been working on.


But the two 25-year olds are not twiddling their thumbs:


– We continue the youth activities online. Now we arrange Uno and kahoot online. A crisis is also an opportunity to rethink and be creative, Wamira laughs.


– My family was very concerned

It was a difficult decision for both whether they should stay in Norway or go back home. The risk of exposing themselves to infection on the long flight and then infecting their family when they returned, played a role in their decision to stay. And both wanted to finish the job they had come here to do.


– My family was very concerned for me when they read about the spread of the disease in Europe and I had to calm them down explaining that it was not that bad here in Norway, Kibet says.


Both chat via video with their family and friends every day.


–We don’t miss each other that much because we meet every day, it’s almost as if I’m home, Wamira says. He is glad social media makes it so easy to stay closely in touch.


Uncertainty for the farmers

Back home in Kenya they do not know anyone who has lost their jobs or fallen ill yet, but people’s incomes have become more unstable.

– There are so many that work in the informal sector, so they haven’t exactly lost their jobs, but there aren’t any jobs to get either. Where I come from, most people live off farming, and when markets are closed people cannot sell what they farm, Wamira explains.


His father, who owns a wine outlet, is worried that the deliveries will stop.


Kenya started their corona restrictions early; On 16 March President Uhuru Kenyatta closed schools, imposed travel restrictions, 14 days quarantine for everyone who had been abroad and contactless payment to prevent infection, according to BBC.


On 27 March a general curfew from 19:00-05:00 was put into place, 100% tax relief for the poorest and the president cut his own wage by 80% to join in on the work, according to the Kenyan newspaper Nation.


Recently, a complete ban on journeys in and out of Kenya was put in place.



The article was first published in Bistandsaktuelt 10.04.2020

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