It’s 11:00 pm central time on Wednesday night and I’m fighting off sleep to have a scheduled WhatsApp call with Moses Omondi. The time in Nairobi is 7:00 am on Thursday morning April 16th and heavy rains from the night continue to batter on the city famously known as the ‘green city under the sun’. Moses picks up the call with so much cheer, his voice not indicative at all that dawn has just broken. I apologize to him for the early call but he dismisses me and says he is very much okay. I later find out that he is working around the clock, juggling his work from home with an international organization while coordinating various projects that are supporting a very vulnerable community in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moses is on power mode – backed up with community volunteers from the Kibera Community Emergency Response Team (K-CERT), they are working to keep the coronavirus out of Kenya’s biggest slum – Kibera. There is a great sense of urgency as the number of cases are increasing daily, threatening to overwhelm an already strained health system. The country is already on lockdown, with limited travel, people working from home and a 7pm curfew enforced by police and military until 5am.
The coronavirus has impacted daily living for many people across the globe. However, the most poor and most vulnerable are facing worse effects. Without policies to help mitigate the economic effects, people living in Kibera are facing an additional threat – the threat of hunger. As many of the residents depend on casual labour and live hand to mouth, their livelihoods have been disrupted and families are going hungry. Furthermore, their overcrowded informal settlements lack basic amenities, and public health messages of social distancing, wearing protective masks, sanitizing and washing hands with clean running water seem very elitist.
Amid the pandemic, there are small glimpses of hope as community efforts are springing up. Moses, a lifelong resident of Kibera responded to pleas from community members who lost their source of income. The need for food and other locally available opportunities was the call from some of the residents to the Community Development graduate who has lived and worked in the community.
He started the ‘Adopt a Family’ initiative which aims to help as many families as possible in the slum who are facing tough economic times due to the effects of Covid-19. I first learned of this through a news story coverage on NTV news Kenya and I reached out to the founder to learn more.
With constraints imposed on by the virus, they had to be creative in how families can get access to food. They introduced food vouchers that are redeemable in some supermarkets around the community. For 1500 Kenya shillings ($20 CAD, $15 USD) one can sponsor a family of 6 for a week to get basic food items. Neighbourhood volunteers from the Kibera Community Emergency Response Team are helping to identify and reach families that are in great need. So far, over 90 families have received sponsorship through the initiative.
Other initiatives taken on by the team include: the introduction of hand washing stations at various points in Kibera within the neighbourhoods and busy roads joining different villages in the slum; promoting the use of re-usable face masks made by youth entrepreneurs; printing and distributing posters and pamphlets for public education to spread information on Covid- 19. They are also lobbying the government to permit trained volunteer health educators to provide critical information as there is a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding Covid-19.
The most interesting thing about our conversation was when Moses noted that with social distancing directives, many people and organizations working in the community had to leave. The community was left to pick up for itself and activate their local systems to coordinate their efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Using his privilege, knowledge and experience in community mobilization, Moses stepped up. This is the power of community and it serves as a hopeful reminder that communities have the power to create and implement their own solutions.
Please join the efforts of Moses and the Kibera Community Emergency Response Team by contributing to the ‘Adopt a Family’ initiative to help as many families as possible during this Covid-19 pandemic. You can donate securely on M Changa – Africa’s first crowd funding website and a trusted partner of GlobalGiving. Donations can be made via MPESA, Paypal, Visa or Mastercard.