On the midmorning of June 2, 27-year-old Sophie Akinyi made her way to Inua Kike Organisation in Mathare North. The building has become her symbol of hope and saviour in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 hit her household hard, she begins, before quickly noting that as a community leader, she is here to speak for herself and her fellow women from Mathare.
At the height of Covid-19, with no job, a toddler and another on the way, Ms Akinyi’s boyfriend, who had promised to marry her fled, pretending that he had been locked in another county following the president’s directive of cessation of movement.
Before then, she worked as a helper at a textile factory sorting waistbands for Sh13,000 a month. This, she used to pay her rent, pay her fare and purchase food for her daughter, parents and three siblings. And then Covid-19 came and all helpers, more than 500 of them, were fired.
“I did people’s laundry for little money, but sometimes the loads were so heavy that I started feeling as though my cervix was dilating. At one point, still pregnant, I bled and was attended to in a dispensary, but I couldn’t stop,” says Ms Akinyi.
“I also developed an infection and was supposed to be admitted, but my gut wouldn’t allow me. I was assured of meals at the hospital, but I what would my people eat? I opted to run away from hospital and be attended to at the local dispensary, to give me a chance to get food for my family,” explains Sophie.
“Covid-19 also introduced our girls to theft, as others tried their luck in transporting guns past secure points to get Sh100 for food. Then, we were not looking for much, we just wanted food,” she says.
For 45-year-old Sabina Ombwayo from Korogocho slums, the Covid-19 period is a reminder of hunger, desperation and how she lost her house and little property to bulldozers. And then her husband’s Juakali job hit a snag, and her family of eight stared at hunger and possible death every day.
When her husband was lucky to make some money, he would give her sh200 to buy corn flour, vegetables and chicken feet for supper.
Strong tea sufficed for breakfast, and when there were a few coins to spare, the family would buy githeri and avocados from food stalls.
“My daughter suffered the most because she had just given birth. I would set aside some flour for her porridge, but it was never enough and she struggled to produce breastmilk. Not once did we sleep hungry,” she explains.
When Susan Osiche, the founder of Inua Kike called her to plan for food donations, Sabina was elated. The food baskets, which were distributed in May and June 2020 contained a kilogramme of soap and rice, a litre of salad oil, two packets of sanitary towels, a packet of two-kilogramme corn flour, another packet of two-kilogram wheat flour and indomie.
“The food baskets gave us a chance to change our diet. On the day we received them, we made chapati for supper, and spared some for breakfast. we made rice for lunch the next day, and my daughters, whosoever’s cycle came first, used the sanitary towels,” she says.
Ms Akinyi, explains that the food baskets helped them regain their dignity. For a few days, they didn’t have to beg or steal, or wonder where the next meal would come from.
“What they were offering wasn’t much, but because we needed food so badly, it was like an answered prayer. The World Food Program also saved our lives. We received Sh4,067 every month for three months, which helped me afford my baby’s basin, clothes, blanket, cotton for myself and spare that I gave my mother, “says Ms Akinyi.
The food baskets, explains Ms Osiche, benefited more than 500 households from Utalii, Mathare, Korogocho, Baba Dogo and Lakisama wards.
“We started did the project following an online fundraising done by four students from Manchester University who were here volunteering. From Sh500,000, we executed the project in two phases, providing food baskets to 50 households from each ward,” explains the founder.
“We drafted a list of the intended beneficiaries, but people showed up in numbers to distribution centres and we couldn’t leave them out. We once had a disabled woman carried to the centre, and another weak and hungry woman who had just given birth that we had to prioritise. Korogocho and Mathare North were the most affected wards,” recalls Ms Osiche.
Ms Osiche started the organisation in 2015 to give a chance to teenage mothers to get education and certificates that they can use to further their education or seek decent jobs. She had dropped out of school herself due to lack of school fees, and by the time she sat for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination, she had gotten married, battled domestic violence, given birth to a baby and separated.
“The situation is better now, but the people from these areas still need food baskets. We would have loved to do more, but our funds are limited. If I were to get funds today, I would revive the project in a jiffy,” she explains.
In 2020, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said at least 740,000 people in Kenya lost jobs due contracting of the country’s economy because of Covid-19.
IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis report issued in November 2020 said that high levels of acute food insecurity persisted in urban informal settlements, due to diminished labour opportunity and Covid-19 restrictions measures.
Price increases of products diminished the purchasing power of households, which limited access to sufficient and nutritious food, as unemployment led to reduction of income. These two, besides diseases, continue to be risk factors.
“It is estimated that approximately 1,071,000 people, faced high levels of acute food insecurity between August and September 2020. Approximately 267,000 people were in emergency, with the Mukuru, Dandora and Kawangware settlements having the highest number of people: 127,000 people in total,” said the report.
To cushion dwellers in urban informal settlements, the government initiated a cash transfer programme in April 2020, targeting approximately 20,000 households with Sh4,000 per month.
To reduce and do away with food insecurity, the report recommends that the government needs to priotitise providing cash or food assistance and sustained safety net programmes to build resilience of vulnerable households to future shocks, to promote water and sanitation programmes to improve access to safe drinking water and explore the potential for urban agriculture.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the EU.