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Ubele Case Studies – Impact of COVID19 on Elders – Ade Sawyerr

‘ I just wonder, how do our children  feel in a system where they are detached,  where  nothing is coming from them and yet they will be the resolution – I guess I have to believe our kids and our young people, will do well’- Ade Sawyerr


  • Name – Jacob Williamson Adeyemi Sawyerr 
  •  Age– 69 ( DOB- 28th Oct 1950)
  • Gender: Male
  • Self-Identified Racial Background: -Afrikan/Ghanaian
  • Residing Geographical area– Upper Norwood (Borough of Croydon)

Who living With– Predominantly with my wife- we have one child, a son in his 30’s who has special needs. Usually, he lives on his own in supported housing- but when COVID19 started we encouraged him to come back home until it’s over so that he’s better supported. We didn’t want him on his own.

 How has this virus impacted on your life (Isolation; family; fear; food access; medical supplies etc). Ade is in one of the vulnerable health groups- he has sickle cell disease, so slowing down and staying away from others is very important.  Ade’s wife, who works for a city council, decided about 4 weeks ago, that she would work from home in order to assist in protecting the family or else she would be coming in and out and that might be a problem for his condition.  Ade and his family, live in a flat they are getting on top of each other a bit- but Ade feels it is ok

About Mid February after talks with his haematology consultants – Ade was told not to come to the hospital in case he picked up the virus in the hospital, he now speaks to his medics as necessary over the phone.  Around that time Ade decided to pull back on his outside appointments and do his work over the internet.  As a consultant he feels that working from home and technology has been his way of operating for some time anyway – however, belonging to many social Ghanaian social groups have also had to be curtailed.

Ade feels he understands and manages his sickle cell condition fairly well and recognises that if he is ‘Sickling’,  its usually due to other underlying issues such as his immunity system being low; he’s maybe caught a cold or been out in the rain, or he’s feeling stressed.  So mainly the medics can only give him painkillers, which he doesn’t like taking too much as they can be addictive, so he doesn’t rely on them too much but uses his own coping mechanisms such as loads of fluids and rest to see him through any ‘Sickling’ episodes.

One of the impacts of Ade’s self-isolation, however, ‘I feel that it is making me a bit lazy- I find myself just sleeping more- not chasing up my work’.  Ade feels he could be a little bit more exercise/activity focused.

In relation to fears around the virus –it’s not fear as such, it’s that people are dying and its, therefore, it’s a very real situation for Ade.  ‘And when you know people who are dead and who have gone into hospital and contracted the illness there, then that is real. So, I don’t want to put myself in a position where I have such a problem- that’s as far as my fear goes’.

Do you get any support from the government, or church; or local community groups?

Due to sickle cell disease, Ade is on the list of vulnerable people in Croydon, so Wednesday he is brought food which generally consists of-  Whitebread; corn beef; sardines; tomato soup, a bag of carrots and potatoes; tea and milk.  The downside to this gesture is that I eat a lot of African food, although my wife has been persuading me to drink the soup for my lunch which I have now got used to. However, in quantity, the food is more than enough to meet his needs for a week and it is still very much appreciated and demonstrates that the government is doing something to help people affected by this virus and lockdown.   Ade has been told that he could have his medication delivered to him as well.

Other than Birmingham, Ade notes that Croydon has the largest number of an ethnically diverse population in the UK and are therefore doing what it can to support this diversity. In relation to Ade’s own racial and cultural needs, Ghana Union is working to serve Ghanaians in all of London and he wished that they could reach as far as his own area! As mentioned earlier, the lockdown has meant that connections through attending a church where they speak Ga has had to be curtailed and those are the things that Ade misses but understands the impossibility of that happening right now.


Anything good come out of this situation for you?

Yes- looking at it from a black political perspective we need to start to focus now on what we want- the West cannot do it for us- China cannot do it for us- We need to get to a stage where we stop emulating the western ways and start dealing with culture as a way of accepting ourselves in this world.

I can look at the way of the west developed in their culture Enlightenment and their culture as well as the industrial revolution.  Contrast that with what happened in Russia a system that allowed it to survive on their own and it gave them a sense of confidence and of national pride. China had Mao and then their own cultural revolution- then they started developing their creative side and developed industry- based on their needs- no one else’s, now that creativity is across the world.  For us as Africans in the continent, Caribbean and across the world, we have an opportunity which we haven’t developed very well so far.  We should be united now as African countries- deal with our own sense of what we need to develop our own cultural needs.  Develop more about our culture and our creativity. This virus has shown me that I don’t think we need a lot of stuff and we can do a lot without all this extra stuff that we acquire as people.  We looked too much to the west and developed stuff that has no bearing on our lives.  For example, I saw something where black people were distributing spaghetti in our countries- but we should be getting coco-yams, maize and yams. Even the food Ade was being given could have easily included plantains.

Black people in the UK and in the general world will realise that we have to do more for ourselves.  People have talked about technology- which has probably been speeded up due to the virus- it was always going to be this way so that people become more efficient.

Consultancy work has shown Ade that face to face work is not always necessary.  Since the 1980’s he has used technology and libraries to connect with people and get his work done.  Ade has always involved younger people to sort things in that way- it is the younger people that will drive the industry for as we get older we get jaded and that younger vibrancy keeps things moving forward.  We need each other the younger and the elders.

Ade’s worries though are about social distancing, believing that this will affect people in the long run in different ways. Funerals are very big in his Ghanaian community- sometimes they are 3 or 4 days long.  People will now have to have smaller gatherings and not bother again- if this Covid19 comes around again as predicted- then how will we keep in touch with people- we do a lot of handshakings.  We meet and catch up on the news when people come in from Ghana. The world will change in how society connects.

This society tends to have different ways of the meeting- its individualistic anyway so this social distancing is going to affect the black community more. We have these celebration points – large funerals; large weddings; celebration of births- these celebrations are how we get together and connect- but I can see people staying at home.  Going forward I will be staying home more and assess if it is important for me to attend, I will decide what contributions my attendance will make.  My nephew popped around to see me not so long ago- and had to sit in his car to talk to me and he was very disappointed not to be able to get closer but if he had phoned me first I would have told him about the decisions I have to make to protect myself and he wouldn’t have had what he thought was a wasted journey – I have to be more conscious than others.


What’s missing from your life – what could help to make it better?

I think that now it’s about how we need to think through how to recreate our community- not saying we are broken in anyway, probably haven’t always thought about how we can move things forward.  My own theories people were thinking about compensation and injustices and receiving money from the government- what I thought we should have been doing is to rewrite the immigration system so that we could remove elements of injustice-little monies and compensation.  Another government will come in and do these things to us again.  Because policy drives a lot of stuff that’s where we should be and then move that into action.  We need to rewrite how this country should work for us- protests are good but what happens after that? I’ve watched how race keeps being pushed off the agenda.  We need to rewrite- the policies. “These recent calls for inquiries what will they achieve?”


We need to be bold.  It’s not about money it’s about outcomes.  The first thing we need to tackle is ‘how do we drive policy- We can use this COVID19 to help us to think and drive through long-lasting change- not just tinker.

Just think we have respected doctors and leaders falling ill- if they can die then this feeds into the fears people have at the moment. We must protect ourselves yet find ways forward together taking on board the changes that have materialised and which may never go back to where it was.

‘ I just wonder – how do our children feel in a system where they are detached where nothing is coming from them and yet they will be the resolution – I guess I have to believe our kids and our young people, will do well’.

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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