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Out to get young people masked up

Friday May 22 2020


Oliver Kateya is the founder and director of Umoja Talanta. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Young people need more than just a mask to wear a mask.

This may sound like just another statement, but for Oliver “Xbizi” Kateya, it is a call to action.

He has come up with stylish, branded face masks, which he distributes to young people in Mathare and Umoja estates to encourage them to keep them on and protect themselves and those around them from the Covid-19 virus.

“Initially, I didn’t like the idea of putting on masks. I only used to do it to avoid being arrested by the police. Then someone gifted me with a good-looking, branded mask, which I found myself wearing all the time, without needing any reminders.

“Afterwards, I thought about the many people, especially the youth like me, who dislike wearing face masks. I thought that if I could offer them masks that are stylish and of good quality, perhaps they could protect themselves and others better,” the 27-year-old says.

So Oliver got to work. He commissioned the design and branding of 70 masks. The masks bear the logo of either Umoja Talanta or Mathare Talanta, thereby giving the youth in those locations even more reason to put them on.


“We started with these two areas because even prior to the pandemic, we used to engage communities there through various arts and sports activities, so it was like a continuation of improving their lives.


“On the first day of distributing the masks, I realised that there were so many people who needed them but couldn’t afford to buy them. But I was equally surprised that there were some young people who actually offered to buy the masks, even though they were quite expensive, because they were impressed by the quality and design.

“I decided to give them out only to those who could not afford them; then I allowed those who wanted to buy them to do so at Sh150 as a way of supporting the initiative,” he said.

But all this hasn’t been without challenges. “The main challenge is that almost everyone wants the mask, but we don’t have enough to share with all of them because they are expensive to buy and brand. These are very densely populated areas and it worries me that since I started distributing the masks, I have seen children coming to tell me that their mother went to the market wearing their masks. It means that so many people are sharing the protective gear and that is quite dangerous especially in the slum areas where we operate.

“However, I feel happy whenever I walk around those neighbourhoods and find the youth keeping their masks on even when there are no cops. It is indeed a confirmation that young people appreciate quality stuff,” he said.


So far Oliver and his team have distributed close to 100 masks, and they hope to distribute about 500 more within the next two months so that more young people stay protected.

“I would like to give out as many masks as possible, but they are expensive so we encourage those who can help us increase capacity to come on board,” he says.

Oliver is the founder and director of Umoja Talanta, an organisation that aims to keep young people engaged through sports and art activities to reduce their chances of getting into crime or abusing drugs.

Together with his team, he organises two events every month in Mathare and Umoja estates to reach out to the members of the community, and also to give the youth a platform to showcase their talent and skills.

“Our goal is to give young people a platform and safe space, where they can voice their fears and concerns, encourage them to reach their full potential, and also to give them something to identify with. During our events, there are usually lots of arts and sports activities where youth can participate in.


“We have been doing this for more than five years now, and our ultimate goal is to own an art and sports centre that is fully equipped with the necessary equipment and personnel to offer training and allow showcasing of talent and skills among the young people.

We also offer mentorship in a number of primary schools in Mathare slums every week, which increases our reach of the young people.

So far, we have managed to train eight acrobats and dancers, who are currently on contract in China. We have also enabled about 20 young artists to record and put out their songs and videos.

Currently, we are working on Covid-19 sensitisation activities through music and short films,” said Oliver, who is also a performing artist.