Young paralegals lead fight against coronavirus in Kenyan community

By Global Fund for Children | April 7, 2020 | Africa & The Middle East | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Youth Empowerment

This guest post is by Pete Ouko, founder of GFC partner Youth Safety Awareness Initiative (also known by its brand name Crime Si Poa) in Nairobi, Kenya.

The ink had hardly dried on an article by GFC’s Africa Program Officer, Bundie Kabanze, titled “The leaders of tomorrow are ready … today,” than news of the coronavirus pandemic captured the collective attention of the world.

Bundie’s interview with one of our community legal aid participants, the effervescent Bahati, was focused on youth leadership – but little did I imagine the ability of Bahati and her peers to handle a sudden occurrence of the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic.

Aware of the dangers this pandemic would cause in the already overcrowded informal settlements where a majority of our participants come from or live, Youth Safety Awareness Initiative, in partnership with GFC alumni partner SHOFCO, immediately rolled out an awareness creation and sensitization campaign.

Team leaders Bahati and Vivian, along with their fellow Sheria Mashinani graduates, played, and continue to play, a central and leading role. Though trained in community law, they are now applying their leadership skills to this new, unprecedented challenge.

In an era of misinformation and mistrust, we sought to demystify the rumors about the pandemic and build community ownership in the fight to ensure that a majority of Kenyans are not exposed to the virus.

The target for Bahati, Vivian, and their team was to reach a massive 125,000 households, spread out in 13 villages and covering about 630 acres – a size equal to about 75% of Manhattan’s Central Park.

Bereft of immediate financial resources for a sudden emergency, but leveraging abundant human resources, a team of 200 community warriors, including the 26 Sheria Mashinani graduates, were trained by the SHOFCO’s health team. They then divided into different zones and were immediately deployed.

A participant from the Sheria Mashinani program helps to inform the community about the coronavirus. © Youth Safety Awareness Initiative

While some manned the wash points dotting all entrances to the sprawling informal settlement, others moved door-to-door sensitizing the community, especially children, on correct hand-washing methods, social distancing, and everything they needed to know about the coronavirus.

Equipping young people like Bahati and Vivian to lead the process enabled the community to have immediate buy-in and support the initiative. This drew in the attention of both the local and international press. Now YSAI and SHOFCO are using the Kibera model to roll out similar programs in 12 other informal settlements in the key cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu.

Our focus in all this is to ensure that children and the most vulnerable are well informed and supported through this season of uncertainty. Our trained youth leaders are now leading in distribution of sanitizers and food items to this target group.

I am humbled that GFC has enabled us to impact a catalyst group of young people who are now passionately leading in the change they believe their community should have.

Making soap for distribution in Nairobi's informal settlements. © Youth Safety Awareness Initiative

As sad as these circumstances may be, an opportunity has presented itself, and I can confidently say that I have seen young people take leadership and become involved to influence change, to be part of the solution. They are taking charge of their present as they shape their future.

I am proud of them as they are my heroes and heroines in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in their community. True change makers.

Watch this video to see Peter speaking with the media about these initiatives.

Header photo: Author Peter Ouko and Iryn Were from SHOFCO model social distancing for children in Nairobi’s Mathare informal settlement. © Youth Safety Awareness Initiative

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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