Kenyans for Kenya: When the shillings poured in
Posted Tuesday, August 30 2011 at 18:00
- Faced with starvation, Kenyans threw their lot together. Cynics said celebs and big business were capitalising on the hunger of fellow Kenyans to improve their image, but as Kenya Red Cross boss Abbas Gullet says, it was mainly about lending a helping hand
More than a dozen white transport trucks stood idling in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on Saturday, each stamped with the bright-red emblem of the Red Cross.
On a nearby stage, Abbas Gullet, the secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), gestured towards the lush vegetation of the park as he addressed a gathering crowd.
“You just need to get a few hundred kilometres out of Nairobi,” he said, “and you face a different terrain.”
As the group turned toward the convoy of trucks, Mr Gullet waved the flag of Kenya high — and on his cue, the fleet revved their engines and began their journey south, with almost 400 metric tonnes of food stacked deep in their cargo holds.
Those food-laden trucks — off to rescue thousands of starving Kenyans — were making this journey thanks to the Kenyans for Kenya campaign.
The shillings poured into the campaign over the past four weeks — dropped into donation boxes at Nakumatt supermarket outlets, sent in through the various mobile money transfer services, and handed to cashiers for those ubiquitous black T-shirts proclaiming “Together we can make a difference!”
The campaign drew to a close on Saturday as hundreds of people flooded the sloping lawns of Uhuru Park for a concert and telethon.
The final fundraising numbers will not be available until late this week, but the initiative had already raised Sh683 million before the weekend’s festivities began — after breaking the initial goal of Sh500 million in the first 10 days of the campaign.
“The campaign was mainly an issue of food, especially for school children in the arid and semi-arid parts of northern Kenya,” says Mr Gullet, adding that they are also targeting vulnerable populations such as nursing and pregnant mothers, the sick, and the elderly.
“Now,” Mr Gullet says, “the real work actually begins.”
The KRCS is in charge of dispersing the funding, which will aid some of the estimated 3.5 million Kenyans at risk of starvation. According to the KRCS’s partnership coordinator, Ms Rosemary Mutunkei, their strategy is to fill bellies today and prevent a similar crisis from happening again tomorrow.
“This is a truly serious natural disaster,” says Challiss McDonough, a senior spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) in East Africa. “I think it’s heartening to see the outpouring of support that Kenyans have had for their compatriots. I’ve seen T-shirts everywhere I turn with the Kenyans for Kenya logo.”
Almost as soon as the Kenyans for Kenya campaign got underway in July, the KRCS started using donations to buy supplies for the crisis areas.
“(We thought) We need to start right away; we can’t afford to wait until all the money comes in,’” says Ms Mutunkei.
With Saturday’s shipment, the KRCS has so far distributed 1,000 metric tonnes of Unimix — a high-nutrition porridge flour made of enriched maize and bean flour — at a cost of Sh101 million. The flour has been shipped to drought-affected areas in all parts of the country.
In total, Mr Gullet says, the shipments have reached 1,000 schools. In Turkana alone, the porridge flour was slated for delivery to 275 schools, reaching about 77,700 students.
The KRCS’s overall goal is to reach 400,000 school-going children — and on Saturday, Mr Gullet said they were half-way there. They are coordinating their activities with other actors in the region, says Ms Mutunkei, because other groups, such as the government and the WFP, are also targeting malnourished children.
In addition to food aid, the KRCS trucks supply water to crisis areas and provide emergency health services.