Young people are mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic in Kibera by encouraging participation in screening, ensuring access to healthcare, and expanding access to education.
Written by Mercy Owuor, Head of Research Policy and Development at Carolina for Kibera
COVID-19 has adversely disrupted daily life in Kenya and the world over. Education and health services resources are being diverted to manage the crisis, and as governments implemented lockdown measures, many people have been left without a source of livelihood. UNESCO estimates that the closure of schools has impacted more than 861.7 million children and youth while unemployment has risen three times higher than the Great Recession.
In Kenya, a survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) found that 9 out of 10 Kenyans are unsure whether they will return to work. Many of those that have returned to work have still been forced to take pay cuts. This statistic is much worse for people working in the service industry and informal sector, which is where the majority of Kibera residents secure their income.
Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a local non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya, is working with young people to mitigate the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As cases continue to rise, Kibera, an informal settlement, is particularly at-risk and has been listed as one of the hotspots in the city. But young people are not sitting idle and waiting for the worst to come. They have been productive, working on the frontlines and performing vital work such as developing clear messaging around COVID-19, maintaining healthcare services, and ensuring students continue to learn even if they are unable to attend school.
“Young people can play a vital role in COVID-19 response,” said Elmard Rigan, a psychologist, motivational speaker, and one of CFK’s young leaders. “My services are vital because I not only serve the current population but I’m working to build hope for tomorrow’s generation. The future depends on our actions today.”
Developing Clear COVID-19 Messaging to Encourage Participation in Screening
CFK is following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on COVID-19 mitigation. The CDC explains the purpose behind testing: “Viral tests are used in community, outpatient, and hospital-based surveillance systems to identify cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. These data help identify areas of ongoing circulation (hot spots), determine trends in disease by location, provide insight into the impact of the disease over time and by location, and inform disease forecasts.”
On March 26, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kibera, young men and women mobilized the community to participate in free COVID-19 screening at CFK’s Tabitha Medical Clinic, one of the few testing sites in Kibera. With all the myths, misconceptions and conspiracy theories surrounding the disease, the community was skeptical about rumors and news reports. It took a great deal of effort to convince people to come to the Tabitha Medical Clinic for screening, but CFK staff and volunteers did a great job communicating why screening for the disease was critical.
In Kibera, when the first positive results were delivered, government contact tracers and ambulances visited the community to gather individuals with positive COVID-19 test results. The individuals with positive results were unaware of the quarantine process. Fortunately, our CFK frontline youth who also call Kibera home were able to share information to instill trust and faith in the process.
Maintaining Access to Health Services and Mitigating the Pandemic
Young people in Kibera are creative, innovative, and energetic and have devised ways to ensure continued health and education services in Kibera during the pandemic. CFK manages tens of thousands of clinic visits annually, providing vaccinations, sexual and reproductive health services, counseling, x-ray services, and more. Staff and volunteers are working around the clock to ensure the community continues to receive these essential services throughout the pandemic.
Joy Barnice Henry, a health systems college graduate and CFK staff member at Tabitha Clinic, is putting her education and skills to work. She has teamed up with other young leaders and community health workers to ensure uninterrupted health care delivery. She is coordinating with suppliers and staff to provide health care workers and the community with supplies needed to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Joy is continually on the ground coordinating work at Tabitha Clinic and serves as a vital link between the community and the health facilities.
As the adverse effects of the pandemic continue, emotions are high and families are struggling to get by, which can lead to an increase in mental health issues. To meet the growing needs, CFK youth staff are offering mental health and wellness counselling services and alleviating food insecurity by delivering supplies to the most vulnerable households. Adhering to proper social distancing protocols, they are also delivering hygiene kits to adolescent and young girls to reduce the risk of sexual and gender–based violence and unwanted pregnancies. Staff continues to offer sexual and reproductive health services through CFK’s Young Health and Wellness Centre.
CFK’s team is also training community members to make soap, and they are developing information and communication (IEC) materials for use on social media and WhatsApp to deliver accurate health information. They have distributed more than 400 locally made jerry cans with taps for handwashing and are delivering and helping to install taps at individual households. They are also continuously disinfecting public areas to reduce the spread of the virus.
Ensuring Continued Learning Among Students in Informal Schools
With the closure of schools and the increasing unrest, the pandemic has further exposed the resource gap between private and informal schools. For example, the majority of students from low socio-economic backgrounds who attend public and informal schools do not have access to virtual learning made available to students in private schools. The Kenyan government has issued guidelines for schools to tentatively reopen in January, and all students are expected to repeat their grades. Even with this directive, students from private schools continue to be engaged through virtual learning while the rest from public and informal schools are left with no alternative. Despite the challenges, CFK’s team of young leaders has been ensuring students in Kibera are engaged and continue to learn during this period.
Having grown up in Kibera, Joshua Omweno, a construction student and an education enthusiast, understands the resource challenges and educational divide in his community. He has been working with other young people to ensure children from Kibera continue learning throughout the pandemic by providing educational revision materials for home use to 1,653 students. Staff are also utilizing technology and have developed a parent and teacher group on WhatsApp to manage student activity.
Through their actions and service throughout this challenging crisis, Elmard, Joy, and Joshua and many others like them have demonstrated that they too can lead. CFK is empowering young people to drive social progress in Kibera through new and innovative projects. If tapped and nurtured, they can make an incredible impact, even in challenging crises situations.