As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across Kenya, lockdowns, closure of schools, and cancellation of public meetings have caused immeasurable disruptions.
Even before COVID-19, persons with disabilities were living in a world of isolation, and the effects of the health crisis have been keenly felt. Samuel Onang’o, a father of three, is a cobbler, or shoemaker, in Kibera. He is also physically disabled.
His wife and children traveled to another region of the country with the hope of returning home in a week, but the government announced a lockdown for Nairobi. More than two months have passed, and Samuel has had to learn to survive alone in his one-roomed tin-walled house.
“Before coronavirus, I was earning up to 1,000 Kenyan shillings [about US$10] a day. This was enough for my family’s upkeep and my children’s school fees. Now, I barely make 200 shillings [about US$2] on a good day. Yesterday, I made only 10 shillings,” Onang’o said.
The loss of income has been occasioned by the massive job losses for the people living in Kibera informal settlement, who now spend whatever little money they have on food and other essential goods.
As a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government ordered all people operating a business to install handwashing stations. This presented another challenge to Onang’o.
“We have to buy water here in Kibera. Sometimes, I don’t even have enough for my domestic use, but I have to buy water for my handwashing station at work, lest I be arrested,” Onang’o said.
Onang’o added that he could get water at the local pump, which is less expensive, but he has to pay for delivery services, which he cannot afford. He also said that whenever he has to go to the government offices to get food, it takes him up to two hours due to his condition.
“I was going to close down my business if ADRA [the Adventist Development and Relief Agency] had not come to my rescue. They gave me 500 ml of hand sanitizer, two bars of laundry soap, and a bar of anti-bacterial soap. I will use some of the soap for my handwashing station at my business premises once I run out of soap, and use whatever I will have remaining for my domestic use,” Onang’o said.
Persons with disabilities like Onang’o face immense barriers not only in their business but also in accessing government services and relief assistance. ADRA has met with nearly 60 households who have similar experiences or who have family members who struggle because of their disabilities.
ADRA provided hygiene kits composed of hand sanitizers, bar soap, medicated soap, and toilet paper to families with individuals who are disabled. Most of their caregivers lost jobs due to coronavirus. ADRA also gave cash transfers to help them buy food and medication and even pay their outstanding house rent. The cash transfer helped the families increase access to food at the household level.
“To these families, ADRA has been their hope in times of need,” said John Ougo, ADRA’s project manager in Kenya. “When they felt forsaken and isolated, ADRA was to them the friend that sticks closer than a brother. Our COVID-19 response will be incomplete as long as persons with disabilities are left behind.”
“The volunteers from ADRA came for me at my place of work and took me home after receiving the supplies from the Kibera Adventist church,” Onang’a said. “I felt loved and cared for. No one has ever done this to me before.”