Life in Nairobi Slums in the Age of COVID-19

It’s Tuesday mid-morning and it’s already getting hot outside. Paul Swagi, the head coach of Hoops for Kids’ Basketball program in Korogocho walks into an empty school compound. Korogocho is one of the largest slum neighborhoods in Nairobi.

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Korogocho neighborhood.

Paul waves and smiles at one of the security guard’s daughters. She is 8 years old and has been coming to work with her mother for the last two weeks since the government announced that all schooling should be suspended in light of the Coronavirus. Both the guard and her daughter wave back at Paul. The guard tells me her daughter wanted to accompany her to the school, even if it’s closed. Better there rather than stay home.

Paul habitually reaches out to shake my hand, but I quickly remind him that that’s no longer how it’s done. The guard laughs at my hesitation and points to the improvised handwashing station that consists of a plastic jerrican with a tap on it that has been mounted on some machine-cut stones next to the gate. A laminated paper by the side of the water drum reads ‘All visitors MUST wash hands here”, a clear reminder of the historic times we’re currently living in. Normally clean water is a precious commodity in a community like this.

Hoops for Kids are the winner of the Enda Community’s first community grant. They run different programs that aim to teach life skills such as leadership and teamwork to at-risk youth using sports. The grant they received from the Enda Community enabled the kids to receive sports shoes, snacks and sports bras for the girls.

Every visit I’ve had to the Hoops for Kids program, the compound was always filled with the happy noise of the boys and girls who attend the program. It is a very strange feeling to find this compound so eerily quiet. Today, Hoops for Kids feels like a ghost town. The primary school, the community library, the ghetto classic music program, and the sports society are all shut down. Everything is locked. The five programs usually have a membership of close to 1500 boys and girls from all over Korogocho.

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Coach Brian during one of the drills.

As we sit down to catch up on the project milestones, Paul receives a phone call. It’s from one of his coaches, Brian, who informs him that 4 students in the under-14 basketball team have just shown up at his home that’s 5 kilometers away! They want to know when they can get back to the program. This is the third time in twelve days that they have shown up at his house oblivious of the danger they are putting themselves in. So much for staying at home. These are kids who are used to being involved for six days a week, the structure that they desperately need has been disrupted.

Paul says, “The Monday after the president’s order to close down schools, things have been a really different and we’re striving to see about quickly adjusting to the new normal.’’ At Saint John’s, the kids are assured of the constant supply of clean water and soap, they aren’t guaranteed the same at home. The major source of water in the informal settlements are the community water tanks and the water boreholes where they queue and pay for the water.

Through our conversation, it hits home just how much the COVID-19 pandemic has come with lots of disruptions and implications around here. Pupils at the St. John’s Primary school were assured of the daily lunch through the school’s feeding program. With parents being out of a job, as most are casual workers in the neighboring Export Processing Zone, ensuring that the kids get three meals is going to be difficult. The situation will get grimmer as more measures are put in place to restrict movement and prevent the spread of the disease.

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Empty and quiet fields at St.John’s community center.

The second season of the under-14 Basketball League (now suspended) was to begin on the 21st of March, 2020. The senior team had just played its second match of the season before the Basketball Federation suspended all basketball activities.

As we wrap up our chat, Paul sighs, ‘’We hope we do not have to endure this pandemic in Korogocho. The lack of affordable healthcare and a reliable supply of water and poor sanitation will make the location very vulnerable. We have all these in our compound but by following the government’s directive we have shut down all activities. At the moment we are negotiating with the local administration to fill the gaps that may have been overlooked in regards to informal shelters.’’

So what can we do to help?

Since Hoops for Kids is out of commission, one of the best ways to help right now is by donating to Penda Health. Penda is one of the largest health care providers in Nairobi’s informal settlements like Korogocho. Right now they’re running a campaign to fund their response efforts to COVID-19. Please donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/covid19-has-hit-kenya-and-we-need-your-help

If you make a donation of at least $50, send us a screenshot of your donation receipt to hello@endarunning.com and we’ll send you a free red Enda Shujaa Raglan T-shirt printed with Twende Pamoja on the back — meaning “let’s go together”. Our rallying cry for coming together to overcome challenges.

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