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International Partnerships

Working with vulnerable communities in Kenya to offset the effects of COVID-19

As in many other parts of the world, the COVID-19 crisis has had a severe and unprecedented effect on everyday lives in Kenya. The impact on health and social issues is evident in the number of deaths and seriously-ill patients. And this situation is exacerbated by the loss of income in households who are struggling to provide for food, rent, medicines and other basic needs.

The pandemic has affected all segments of the population, but the consequences have been even harsher on vulnerable groups – households living in abject poverty, the elderly and those with pre-existing health problems. A significant rise in gender-based violence, as testified by the steep rise of calls to a national help hotline for affected women, are also part of the serious social fall out.

    Lucia Mildred, 26-year-old businesswoman and mother of 4
    Lucia Mildred, 26-year-old businesswoman and mother of 4 - Photo by Brian Otieno / Oxfam in Kenya

    The EU responded immediately, in conjunction with the Kenyan Red Cross Society, Oxfam and Amref Health Africa, to strengthen an inclusive and gender-responsive health response through:

    • the provision of medical supplies to support COVID-19 treatment and management at public isolation centres (reusable hand gloves, theatre gowns, caps, surgical masks, hand sanitisers, colour-coded medical waste bins)
    • training of health care workers on proper management and response to COVID-19
    • continuous community engagement to follow preventive measures
    • early warning systems for COVID-19

    In parallel, the European Union launched an initiative called ‘COVID-19 Cash Safety Nets’ (‘Nyavu za Afya na Usalama’) in April 2020. The project mobilised a consortium of international and national NGOs to identify the most urgent needs, and provide relief in the form of direct and unconditional cash transfers to support households most in need for a period of three months.

    The action, under the umbrella title of ‘Health and Social Safety Net Response to COVID-19 at the Community Level’, aimed to support and protect households in informal settlements in Nairobi. The selection criteria identified families who were most at risk of suffering from the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. For example, because many of the residents in the settlements were employed outside the formal labour market, they lost their jobs and were left without a source of income to meet their basic food and sanitation needs.

    Mildred Lucia received her first monthly cash transfer in August 2020 from the EU-funded safety nets consortium
    Mildred Lucia received her first monthly cash transfer of KSh 7,780 (€61.48) in August 2020 from the EU-funded safety nets consortium - Photo by Brian Otieno / Oxfam in Kenya

    Initial results showed that the initiative, directed at 20,000 households (80,000 residents in 10 informal settlements), has helped to mitigate the immediate economic and social impacts of COVID-19 through direct cash transfers. Households were able to cover their rent, and purchase food and other necessary household items such as soap and medicine. The final number of beneficiaries who received support was 20,561 households. Over 800 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence received cash assistance and 1,035 survivors have received legal or psychosocial support.

    I live in Korogocho. I’m 34 years old. I support six people. My mother, four children, and myself. I earn a living by washing clothes for people. Since COVID-19 started spreading, my life changed for the worse. I am currently not making any money… it reached a point I could not even feed my children.

    Anne Waithera Mothaka

    Next to this, Kenya received 1,020,000 vaccine doses through the COVAX facility on 2 March 2021. The facility envisages to deliver a total of 3,564,000 vaccine doses to Kenya.

    Seven NGOs – Oxfam in Kenya, the Kenya Red Cross, Concern Worldwide, ACTED, Impact Initiatives, CREAW (Centre for Rights Education and Awareness) and the Wangu Kanja Foundation) – funded by the EU, launched the above project that sent monthly cash transfers via M-Pesa (mobile money transfer) to Anne and other vulnerable Kenyans in informal settlements. The money has helped them acquire the basic necessities such as food, water, medicine and toiletries along with assisting them to pay their rent.

    Lucia Mildred, 26-year-old businesswoman and mother of 4
    Oxfam in Kenya / Brian Otieno
    Lucia Mildred, 26-year-old businesswoman and mother of 4
    Oxfam in Kenya / Brian Otieno

    “We used to live in a house, together as a family. One day, they announced that a serious disease had arrived in Kenya. Because the hotel I was employed in decided to close due to the outbreak, their father thought that we would be a burden for him to support. Later that night, he came home at 3:00am. When I opened the gate for him, he grabbed me by the neck. From that point on, it’s been a daily hustle.

    Since the COVID-19 regulations were put in place, everything has gotten really bad. There’s nothing left, so you tell the children to drink water for lunch. One day, I was on the street looking for casual work. A woman approached me, almost as if she understood my struggle and everything I had gone through. She asked me to come to an office nearby, she told me was operated by an organization called CREAW [Centre for Rights Education and Awareness]. One day, at about 8:00 pm the end of August, my children and I had just finished our evening prayers, when I heard a message come in on my phone. Then, my child looked at my phone and told me, ‘Mummy! It’s M-Pesa’. Now, they won’t have to hustle for food.”