Almost two years after Covid-19 came calling, the virus is still with us and the effects of the pandemic are still being felt. A lot of businesses and livelihoods were brought to their knees by the resultant lockdowns, curfews and severely curtailed public transport which made day to day life almost impossible. Though the more extreme measures have since eased and people are rebuilding their lives, we still have a long way to go both in terms of fighting the disease, and the social economic dents it brought along.
As much as everyone has been affected, there are people who were in disadvantaged circumstances even before the pandemic came about. Top among these are people living in informal areas where day to day lives have always been a challenge. Then there are the additional challenges in following the stipulated measures in the fight against Covid, that are more unique to these areas. There is not enough water to wash hands often, no space to be distant from one another and no money to buy masks.
Things have been bad alright, and are still bad for some more than others, but it is not all doom and gloom. People are making efforts to fight not only the spread of Covid-19, but also the economic devastation it brought in its wake.
One heartwarming and encouraging story of an individual doing her bit in the fight is that of Jennifer Akinyi from Mathare. Akinyi is a tailor and with the help of the Billian Music Family and Mastercard Foundation, she has not only been able to bring her tailoring business back to life, but also to give back to society by stitching masks to distribute free of charge to Mathare residents.
I call her story encouraging because at some point in the heat of Covid-19, her business was so badly affected that she was forced to close down. Now she’s open for business again where she also trains other women on tailoring so that they are empowered to start their own businesses when they leave. This a double advantage in that one, they are able to make a living, and two, by stitching masks they play a big part in the continued fight against Covid-19.
To see Akinyi rise again and be able to take other women under her wing is true testimony that with a strong spirit of resilience and with participation of likeminded organizations, we can switch things for the better.
One of the women under Akinyi’s wings is Sophia Wanjiku, a seamstress who sews masks for a living at the Billian Center. Before the pandemic came about, Wanjiku used to make a living by doing small time jobs here and there. But these dried up as soon as the effects of the pandemic started to bite. She has been through quite a rough patch but she’s now getting back on her feet and is able to make something for herself and for her family. Wanjiku is very grateful that the center has a daycare center so she can bring her baby with her to work. This way she can concentrate on her work without having to worry. She also gets a lot of guidance and mentorship from Akinyi.
There are many other women who benefit from Akinyi’s outreach and expertise, two of them being Belinda Atieno and Alice Wanjiru. The two young women have completed the training for making masks are well on their way to starting businesses of their own. This is the kind of ripple effect that is sure to greatly contribute to the fight against Covid-19, as well as help people get back on their feet economically.
Billian music family resource & leadership centre where Akinyi runs her activities from is a non- profit-making organization in Mathare. The organization works to nurture young talent and leaders by providing a safe environment and a safe space. The center goes about empowerment through music, education, dance and other social and developmental activities.
By empowering people like Akinyi, Sophia, Belinda and Alice, Mastercard Foundation and the Billian Center are empowering the families and whole communities. Enabling free distribution of masks is a crucial pillar in the fight against the virus. Furthermore, the organization also gives residents clean water and spreads awareness about the need for continued vigilance and for following the guidelines in the fight.
Covid-19 is still with us and we cannot drop our guard. By protecting ourselves as individuals, we protect our families and our communities. The fight against Covid-19 begins with all of us.