As the COVID-19 virus impacts on life around the world, our work in Kenya is needed perhaps more than ever. Our first thought is for our 105 sponsored students who are now studying at home due to the closure of their secondary schools. It is uncertain how long this will last or the impact it might have on their learning and exams later in the year. It’s re-assuring to them that their school fees for the year have been paid, so there’s no worry about being excluded.
We’re getting updates from our network of local contacts about life under lock-down, with a dusk to dawn curfew in place and an appeal for the same social distancing measures that are in place in the UK and many other countries. This is proving extremely difficult in tightly packed urban areas, especially where the need to work is so great. No work, means no food. So many continue at work despite the risk of spreading the virus. It’s a stark choice. In some places even more people gather together, to sell their produce or clothing before the curfew begins. Those without work, make do with one meal a day, or less.
Family support – a feeding programme
We have looked at ways in which we can support families especially close to the Raila Education Centre in Kibera where the cycling club is based. We were therefore delighted to see that Moses Omondi, one of the very first students that we sponsored, has initiated a project in Kibera called Adopt a Family, providing food vouchers to families struggling to survive. It’s a great example of the ‘pay it forward’ attitude we encourage our students to adopt.
The closure of secondary schools meant that our cycling club is also closed. We had been holding some funds (around £500) to refurbish a shipping container as the base for the club, but it seemed that providing food was a more immediate and pressing need. So we have therefore re-allocated these funds and are making small weekly donations to the Adopt a Family scheme, which is feeding 10 families.
Schooling – studying at home
Our local contacts report that our sponsored children are safe, studying at home where they can and helping their parents or guardians with household chores, while observing the restrictions on movement. The Ministry of Education have set up an online portal where students can access homework and exercises, but many of our students do not have electricity, let alone a PC or laptop at home. For those who can go to a local internet café, the cost of the internet connection while they download papers is often too great.
We’ve been asked by some sponsors if we might collect books to send out from the UK. This is a lovely thought, but these would need to be ones recommended and relevant for their school curriculum. So we’re working with our contacts in each area, who can download papers from the official online portal, make photocopies and circulate to the children. It’s not ideal – but does mean the children can continue to study.
We’re in touch with these contacts regularly to ensure that our students (and those who have left school) remain safe and continue their education. And we’re getting updates from our wider network including mentors, teachers, and local Rotary clubs so we can make sure we’re doing what’s most needed.