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The pandemic has left thousands of children like Jacob in Kenya without enough to eat. These children are facing a daily reality that is devastating and heartbreaking: find food, or go hungry.
By Joe Flynn
Jacob, age 12, is the second oldest of four siblings living with his family in one of Kenya’s largest urban slums. A working poor family, they have always struggled to make ends meet but, before the pandemic, there was always enough food to go round and, with Jacob and his siblings attending school, the chance for a brighter future.
Like most families in Nairobi’s slums, Jacob’s father made his living selling goods at a nearby market; the kind of informal work that four in five Kenyans rely on to make ends meet.
To stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the country’s struggling healthcare system, Kenya’s government needed to swiftly implement a series of safety measures.
One of these measures included shutting down the busy market where Jacob’s father worked, leaving the family without a source of regular income.
Being part of Kenya’s working poor has meant Jacob and his family have always relied on a limited and insecure source of income.
But prior to COVID-19, Jacob and his siblings did not have to worry about going to bed hungry.
They are a tight knit family and although they do not have much money, they used to share a feeling of hope for the future. The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, and the long-term effects could be devastating.
Jacob’s oldest brother, Peter, is in the second year of high school and hoped to use his education to provide a better future for his siblings.
The community impact of COVID-19 has placed an extra burden on families living in slum areas. In Jacob’s community, the threats to young people are many: persistent hunger, interrupted vaccination programs, and the risk that many children may be forced to drop out of school.
Low-paid workers like Jacob’s father rarely get the chance to put money aside to prepare for a disaster. One in three families in Kenya live on less than $3 per day and this means they have no savings to fall back on.
With no social safety net, these working poor families are extremely vulnerable.
Dr. Lorna Sangale has spent more than 20 years working as a specialist paediatrician in some of Kenya’s largest and busiest hospitals. She is on the advisory board of ChildFund Kenya and helps provide guidance to our teams on the ground.
As a doctor, she is extremely worried about the potential threat of COVID-19. During her career, she has seen firsthand the scourge of infectious disease in her country, and the impact these diseases have on vulnerable children.
“To stop this, we must nip this in the bud in crowded community areas, and we must work even more closely with communities,” she says.
“We must be able to provide for them and cater to their essential needs – water and food. Then, we can increase awareness about general hygiene: wash your hands, use a mask, and practise social distancing whenever you are talking to somebody.
“But before we can provide those essential needs, it will be virtually impossible to stop the spread.”
ChildFund prioritises families with members who are either very young, living with disability or ill health as well as families who have suffered a significant loss of income due to COVID-19.
This relief will help provide a bridge for families to get through this pandemic so ChildFund can continue its long-term work and help communities survive this crisis.
This will not only ensure Jacob and his siblings do not go hungry, but it will allow them to focus on their education, one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty.