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The people feeding the needy during virus crisis

Friday May 22 2020
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Clifford Oluoch (far right) and members of Homeless of Nairobi prepare food to distribute to the poor. PHOTO | COURTESY

By FREDA MLEMWA

Most of us are having it rough as businesses close, and many of us stay at home jobless. But many more are in the red, with no food or shelter.

It's for these vulnerable cases that several good souls have stepped in to show some acts of kindness. Through their self-sacrifice, they have inspired thousands of others to fundraise to feed the hungry.

Victor Odhiambo, 30, is the founder of Garden of Hope, Kibera. The CBO has been offering free sanitisation booths, buying food, and paying rent for families with people with disabilities in the slum for the last two months.

"Families of people with disabilities in Kibera slum, are some of the worst-hit by this pandemic. Most of them are struggling to reach government or NGO's help," says Victor.

Victor founded Garden of Hope six years ago to get girls in the slums go through their menses with dignity. When the pandemic struck, Victor felt he had to do more.

"In a place like Kibera, where it is overcrowded and lacks sanitation facilities, the coronavirus can easily spread," says Victor.

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Armed with Sh10,000, he set up hand washing and sensitising stations in Kibera with assistance from the staff in his organisation.

Soon, as the closedown continued, the food situation started biting the residents.

"I came across the case of Millicent, a mother of seven children who lost her work as a domestic labourer. Three of her children are living with various forms of disability and she was overwhelmed," Victor narrates.

"For the last two months, we have been able to pay Millicent's rent and get her family some food," says Victor.

SUSTAINABLE JOBS

The organisation managed to fundraise through Mchanga, individuals, and a few organisation. "So far we have been able to assist over 20,000 people with more than Sh300,000, providing sanitary essentials, food, rent and paying for NHIF for families, to cater to medical emergencies," says the man who was born in Kibera slums 30 years ago.

"I was invited by a group of friends in 2014 to visit a children's home in Kajiado. It was there that I met girls struggling to get sanitary towels. I ended up using my money to buy them the pads.

I was very concerned by the fact that girls struggle to access such a vital thing, so when we got back to Nairobi, I took the matter home, to Kibera where I grew up," says Victor, who grew up in a family of seven, all sharing one room, and whose parents struggled to educate them.

"When we are done with Covid, Kenya needs to work on how we can create sustainable jobs, ensure that our healthcare system is working, and the government builds a good database of vulnerable people, so that they can provide more support in the future," Victor concludes.

*** ***

Jackline Waweru, 26, is a community activist in Shimo la Tewa, Kilifi. She has been monitoring the Kilifi County government response to the pandemic in the last three months and fundraising for food for people of Shimo la Tewa

Fighting for the rights of her community is not something new for Jackline. So when she saw the struggle that Covid-19 has brought upon people, she took it upon herself as a community youth leader in Kilifi County to hold the government accountable and ensure everyone gets the services promised by the county.

"I have been making noise in my community since I was 15. When my friend died of a botched abortion, I decided to make my voice matter in public platforms in my home area, Mtwapa," says Jackline.

Eleven years later, Jackline is using her experience, mentoring and training in advocacy and leadership by community-based organisations (CSOs) to ensure that at this dire times no one is abandoned in Kilifi.

"I have been monitoring Kilifi County's disaster response since the coronavirus hit Kenya to ensure it is accountable and all services are accessible to everyone."

Covid-19 measures such as social distancing have led Jackline to move from an active community mobiliser on foot to an online activist.

"Most youth leaders like myself and CSOs were not given a platform by the county government in their response to this pandemic. So we formed a group called Covid-19 monitors on WhatsApp. We do a report every month and submit it to the county's Covid-19 response team chair," she explains.

VULNERABLE GROUP

From WhatsApp to Twitter and Facebook posts, chats and campaigns, to holding zoom meetings with Kilifi's department of health and gender task forces, Jackline has been able to get the attention of county officials.

"I have submitted a list of commercial sex workers and families of drug abusers to the county's gender and disaster departments. I am following up on it to ensure they get help," says Jackline, adding: "I have received food from the county to give to 200 households of people living with HIV/Aids in my ward, Shimo la Tewa."

Taking a note from their monitoring that many families have been neglected, Jackline has taken upon herself to start feeding those marginalised in Shimo la Tewa.

She says, "There are people that have been left out. People with disabilities, women working in the informal sector, these are the people that I have been trying to feed."

This bold, passionate lady believes no matter how little the effort to bring change is, with passion, commitment, and strategy anything is possible.

*** ***

Clifford Chianga Oluoch, 52, is a co-founder of Homeless of Nairobi. The organisation has been feeding street and slum families while paying rent for the most vulnerable for the last two months.

A chance encounter with two street boys one evening put to bed years of procrastination and heralded the birth of a long thought of a feeding programme. That the story of Homeless of Nairobi.

Odijo (as he is nicknamed) is a teacher by profession and started the programme in 2014 with partners Sham Patel and Zenah Mulei.

Today, the organisation has so far led to the establishment of a home for street children and a literacy campaign as well.

"With this pandemic, the situation on the ground is very grim since many of the street families rely on the nightlife from entertainment joints to get something from revellers. Some would survive by helping to park cars for a fee. With more people working from home, it has become very hard for them," explains the 52-year-old father of two.

The organisation, registered under Odijo Foundation, has several initiatives in Nairobi: Gachie Children's Home for rescued street children; Shule Mtaani programme, a literacy programme for street boys in Deep Sea slums at Highridge, Parklands, and a Children's Club that runs Holiday Camps during school holidays and Saturday activities during school days (ages 3 to 16).

Others are an empowerment programme for secondary school children who live in Nairobi slums, and a school feeding programme for Hope Compassion Centre (primary school in Mathare slums).

OFFERING DIGNITY

Even as Clifford and his team continue to support close to 30 rescued street children and continue supporting at least 100 families, there is more pressure now due to Covid-19.

The school headteacher by day explains: "There are more people in the slums reaching out and we have now gone beyond street families. We have adopted close to 100 families (almost 400 people) that we support continuously with food hampers."

Although Clifford is grateful that they were able to randomly sort out rent to at least 20 families, he wishes he could help out more.

"It's difficult shutting out needy families because of lack of resources. There are bad days when I have to put on my own resources. It is painful not to be able to provide. But we have accepted that we cannot save everyone," he says remorsefully.

Over the years, from 2014, Clifford has attracted a community of donors and well-wishers, most of who are personal friends or relatives that help to raise funds locally and internationally. As he continues with his work he hopes, to give dignity to humanity.

"Apart from the co-founders Sham and Zenah, we have dedicated volunteers and advisers - Ernest, Clara, Ruth, Aggie, Cosmos, Maina," he says.

*** ***

Susan Mwongeli, 36, is a lines producer and feature reporter at CGTN Africa.

She has created a YouTube Channel to create awareness on coronavirus.

Frustrated by how lightly Kenyans were treating the pandemic, the veteran media personality decided to go beyond her work and start vlogging.

"When the coronavirus pandemic happened, there was a clear information gap, especially here in Kenya, where a lot of people I interacted with dismissed the coronavirus as fake. Being in the newsroom and seeing how the disease was ravaging other parts of the world, I felt compelled to create awareness, especially given the warning signs that the pandemic would hit Africa the hardest," says Susan.

Armed with over a decade of health reporting, Susan created a YouTube channel, YourHealthMatters, and started sharing on the same on her social media.

"The YouTube channel grants me the freedom to design and package the message of how I deem fit, especially now with all the numbers and statistics. We could use less formality in how we report them. It also allows me to give a personal touch," she explains.

AWARENESS

The 36-year-old media expert felt the need to report beyond the time limits set by television.

"It can be challenging for a journalist trained on objectivity to share intimate experiences - like my grandfather's burial two days ago, where I observed good social distancing measures in the village. However, I'm also careful not the make myself the story!

It's a tough balance...especially now with social media where things are changing and sometimes you need to be part of the story to drive the point home," says Susan.

Using her resources, Susan has done stories on the impact of nutrition and boosting one's immunity.

In another episode, she held a conversation with a Covid-19 patient who has since recovered. "I hope to give the disease a human face and make people think," says Susan.

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