MATHARE SLUMS NAIROBI.
As of January 2022, coronavirus, has claimed over 5 million lives and with over 349 million people infected globally. The coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 by WHO. Those impacts are not limited to loss of livelihoods and limited access to health services, education and resource & service availability, human rights violation, spatial movement and exposure of violence.
Kenya was no exception as the first COVID-19 case was announced in March 2020 leading to the establishment of stringent measures to fight the COVID-19 virus. However, the inhabitants of slums increased risk due to poverty and poor and lack of infrastructure and services.
Those living in the slums were at greater at risk to contract COVID-19 as they could not follow the WHO prevention guidelines due to lack of access to basic services and non- affordability of masks. The loss of livelihoods and closure of informal businesses led to the residents of informal settlements being more vulnerable. It was for these reasons that the youth from Kibera, Mathare, Mandera and Nyeri established the COVID-19 Youth-led Emergency Response Team to fight against COVID-19.
Emergency response teams and coalitions were built up by the youth leaders with an aim of creatively designing programmes that would help in the fight against COVID-19 in the context of their local community culture. The intervention undertaken by Habitat Norway, Water is Right and Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG) in 2020, led to the establishment of handwashing stations in the Mathare’s public spaces. This not only provided the Mathare Community residents with clean water to facilitate the adherence of WHO guidelines to curb the spread of the virus, but also created jobs for young men and women in Mathare as Handwashing Attendants. Habitat Norway initiated the 2nd Phase of the project in May 2021.The 2 months project targeted in not only empowering youth but also children who have been greatly impacted by the pandemic not limited to lack of access to education in 2020, gender-based violence and increased under-age pregnancies.
YOUTH AT THE FRONTLINE.
Mathare Youth Environmental Conservation Group (MYECG) is one of the most innovative and dynamic youth groups in Kenya. Over the past decade it has transformed a garbage dump into a youth centre and a sports fields from abandoned land. Thousands of slum residents people benefit from MYECG’s garbage collection and feeding programs; these programs are all self-initiated by young women and men who saw a need.
Now these young people are trying to do what they can to fight the pandemic, by setting up services that protect the community from the COVID-19 scourge; services such as free hand washing stations, access to COVID-19 prevention and health information in their local language, and equally important, a sense that they can do something to protect themselves and their families.
However they can’t sustain the effort without outside assistance – your support.
In response to the threat of COVID-19, the Mathare One Stop has enlisted the financial assistance of its long-time partner UN-Habitat, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, the Embassy of Norway, and philanthropist Manu Chandaria.
Financial management of all funds is being handled by the Water is Right Foundation, headed by UN-Habitat Messenger of Truth, pop singer and philanthropist, Mr. Rolf Stahlhofen.
UN-Habitat has been working with MYEGC for over a decade, most recently officially accrediting Mathare Youth Centre a UN-Habitat “One Stop” Youth Centre”.
Recognizing and enhancing “informal” urban infrastructure can be important, especially in times of crisis, when pre-built physical as well as social infrastructure is needed for rapid response. For example a youth centre that is used to organize football tournaments and garbage collection, has also built the social networks and goodwill to mobilize youth volunteers, be a trusted source of information, and provides emergency services when a crisis hits such as a pandemic.
A total of 200,000 handwashes were carried out, from June to December 2021, in the 2 handwashing stations distributed to Destiny school and Edom school in Mathare, Mlango Kubwa. The 2 schools have a total population of 1,700 pupils. The two station are still being utilized and in good condition thus the handwashes have surpassed the above highlighted totals, as of 2022, since the resumption of schools in January.
Jobs and livelihoods were created for 13 local youth in Mathare community. That is 6 youth were hired as coaches in Mlango Kubwa, 5 young teachers were hired as coaches in Village Ward-Mathare, 1 youth as an attendant of the 2 handwashing stations and 1 programme coordinator.
Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG) partnered with Habitat Norway and Water is Right in the establishment of 2 handwashing stations in 2 schools of Mlango Kubwa ward. The 2 handwashing stations complimented the stations provided by UN-Habitat and Chandaria Foundation leading to the establishment of a total of 15 handwashing stations in Mathare Community’s schools. The large water holding capacity of the tanks was greatly appreciated by the schools as it catered for the handwashing process of pupils throughout the week.
110 boys and girls were engaged in the 8 weeks soccer training programme impacting them with soccer skills as well as health information on COVID-19. The soccer programme provided the children a recreational activity where they interacted thus enhancing their mental health. This was clearly demonstrated by the passion and commitment of the children as they never missed their trainings and more children requested to be involved in the programme.
A Young Mother’s soccer team was established in Mlango Kubwa ward. This was inspired from the soccer training programme where the Young Mothers watched their children participate in the training. The Young Mothers, aged 16-22 years, came together and started early morning exercises and soccer training at the Slum Soccer Pitch Grounds. MECYG gave support to the Young Mothers by temporary providing them with the football kits for practice and the coaches guided them further in their training.
The pandemic has created adverse impact on residents living in informal settlements and slums in terms of livelihoods, education, crime, hunger, human rights, and gender-based domestic
violence. This affected the residents of Mathare slums as follows:
LOSS OF LIVELIHOODS AND JOBS
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted livelihoods leading to loss of jobs and closure of businesses in most parts of Kenya. Despite the removal of movement restrictions and night curfews, in December 2021, the economy hasn’t looked up for many, especially youth in the informal settlements. Among the youth, young men and women in informal settlements were the most vulnerable in the loss of livelihoods and jobs ,due to pandemic, thus the increase in the inequality gap.
Gender-based domestic violence (GBV) has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is demonstrated by the loss of jobs which directly led to frustration, affecting the mental health of family members. Children and youth have been negatively impacted by
the increased gender-based domestic violence which has led to their deaths, deaths of their parents or guardians, stress and depression raising concern on their mental health. Despite the increased GBV cases, little has been done by the Government of Kenya as all
resources have been diverted to funding the fight against COVID-19 virus. For example, it was established that there is no Safe House in Mathare slums that GBV victims can go to in case of violence. Hence the victims end up staying in their homesteads and are subjected to continuous violation.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLENCE
In a move to curb the spread of the virus, the Government of Kenya enacted movement restrictions and nationwide curfew from 10pm to 4am. This led to the violations of Human Rights, especially in informal settlements, with police stopping young people indiscriminately due to curfew violations. Police brutality substantially increased in
Mathare in which young men being beaten and killed.
The movement restriction, curfews and loss of jobs negatively effected the accessibility of basic services such as food in the informal settlements. Moreover, more than 300 families in Mathare slums were rendered homeless due to a fire breakout in October 2021 . As such, the purchasing power of food reduced leading to increased hunger among Mathare residents. This has also led to increased crime rate in the community.
LACK OF ACCES TO EDUCATION, RECREATION AND PEER TO PEER ENGAGEMENT FOR CHILDREN
Despite the reopening of schools in January 2021, a large number of children and youth didn’t resume school especially in the informal settlements. This was caused by the lack of resources to cater for the school fees and the increased teen pregnancies. As a result, the
mental health issues among children and youth have deteriorated along with issues such as increased substance abuse. In Mathare there are young mothers between ages of 16 to 22 who were compelled to early marriages because of the teen pregnancies and lack of a source of income to provide for their children.
More handwashing stations need to be established in other schools in Mathare. MECYG have received various request from schools in Mlango Kubwa for assistance with the handwashing stations so as to help them in the adherence of the COVID-19 guidelines and curb the virus spread especially among children.
Need of more recreational activities that will engage the children and enhance their mental health. The soccer programme created a big impact among the children who to date have been going to the Slum Soccer Pitch Grounds for friendly matches with their peers.
More sensitization on public health needs to be facilitated especially on the new variant of COVID-19. Residents in Mathare are more vulnerable to the virus as compared to other communities. Thus, more sensitization needs to be done in order to minimize the rapid spread of the new variant in the community.
More support is needed among the young men and women in Mathare to monetize their skills by establishing start-ups that will enable them to meet their daily needs. Vocational trainings in the creative economy, entrepreneurship and vocational trainings will greatly empower youth in Mathare who cannot access such trainings due to lack of funds.
Support of the Young Mothers Soccer team will greatly empower them and help them overcome challenges that have been affecting their mental health. The Young Mother’s commitment led to them winning a special award at the #DigitalArt4ClimateChange competition as a result of their mural “Girls and Planes”.