How CFK’s WASH Program Helped Kibera Reopen its Schools Safely

CDC chose nonprofit as lead implementation partner for its WASH initiative

CFK’s WASH program was already in place to fight preventable diseases in Kibera, but when the coronavirus pandemic began it was retooled, helping schools reopen.

The nonprofit, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, first launched its WASH program in 2014 in Kibera. Its goal at the time was to reduce diarrheal disease-related deaths, but when the pandemic began, it dramatically expanded the program to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“The same tools that we use to fight diseases like E. coli and rotavirus have been instrumental in reducing the spread of coronavirus,” said Hillary Omala, executive director of CFK who is based in Nairobi. “When the pandemic started, we immediately ramped up those efforts, working with schools and other volunteers, and we could see the positive results in a very short period.”

Short for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, the WASH program teaches students and the broader community about proper handwashing practices, helps install public and private hand-washing stations and makes and distributes liquid soap.

Through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has since designated CFK as its lead implementation partner for the initiative, CFK refocused its WASH efforts once the pandemic hit, installing more than 1,500 new handwashing stations, distributing over 15,000 liters of locally made soap and leading ongoing soap-making workshops.

Government-run and informal schools across Kenya re-opened in early January after being closed for nearly 10 months due to the pandemic. In partnership with its Education and Livelihoods Program, CFK’s WASH project helped provide students and teachers with the tools and knowledge they needed to help them stay safe while returning to school.

Research indicates hand-washing programs are among the most cost-effective, with CDC data showing that every dollar invested brings a return ranging from $5 to $46 due to lower healthcare costs and increased productivity. In addition, hand-washing programs help reduce the estimated 200 million hours a day women and girls spend collecting water, which takes away from the time they can spend in school and doing other activities.

“Hand-washing programs are amazingly effective,” added Omala. “They not only help us reduce other diseases, they help us continue to beat the coronavirus, reopen schools and give young girls, especially, more educational opportunities, all at a very low cost.”