Hand washing champions and the people winning the Covid 19 Fight- Part 1

FROM THE FRONTLINE is a series of stories from the doers in our midst.
July 7, 2020

The success of NBCC as a coalition is dependent on the synergy of many people. Through our correspondents, we will share their stories and celebrate these unsung heroes who individually or collectively are helping us win the war against Covid-19.

Every day I serve over 1400 people in my hand washing station ranging from children to the elderly…

I walk into Mathare and into a world that is very unfamiliar from my suburb existence, here children run freely and in all that is different there is genuine happiness in this seemingly desolate place. Laughter fills the air as the mama mbogas expertly cut sukuma wiki for eagerly waiting customers as rumba, ohangla and reggae songs blare loudly from barber shops and beer dens. Anyway, I digress but I had to give you the imagery of Mathare through my eyes. Like they say, not all heroes wear capes and the ones I met are fluent in sheng, proud and grateful to serve and champion the war against Covid 19.

In case you are still wondering, I visited Mathare Valley to have a firsthand experience of how the interventions against Covid-19 are being implemented and my first stop was in Upendo. Here I meet 27-year-old Paul Otieno Ouko, slender medium height with a deep voice. He gives me an elbow bump and welcomes me to his station that is located next to a community toilet. At face value it is evident that he has been through the school of life that many of his age-mates have been cushioned against, but this also seems to be his inspiration to want to make a difference in his community. 

We get talking and indeed Paul has been through the school of hard knocks, and during our tete a tete he stops severally to say hello to passersby and or assist the people who come to wash hands at his Rotary set up station. “Every day I serve over 1400 people in my hand washing station ranging from children to the elderly and from sitting here I get to see so much of my community that I had previously missed.” “I have come to appreciate the effort of the women in Mathare- they keep the engine going through their small business- you know unlike out there, here we survive on a kadogo economy living a day at a time.”

It is high noon and as he speaks, I look at the pride and conviction in his eyes, despite having been at work since 5.30 AM. “This is hard work but I am thankful that even with the monotony of the operations, every day presents different experiences and conversations” he says as a group of 4 children pass by and say hello to him. He adds, “The small gestures like the happy greetings from the children keep my energies up as sometimes I have to be at my station for up to 16 hours a day.”

For the three months I have been here, I have seen a fluctuation of emotions and sentiments says Ouko, from fear to skepticism, acceptance and fatigue, the fluctuations occur in irregular cycles and with them different attitudes from the public. This however does not deter him from making sure the water stations remain functional. 

Being next to a community toilet, he needs to make sure he has adequate water and he fills his 100-liter drum 3 times a day and dispenses over 1.5 liters of liquid soap during this period. He observes that during the Covid-19 pandemic, water availability in Mathare has improved from twice weekly to almost daily and this has helped push the hygiene narrative very well. He notes with the Covid-19 communication, personal hygiene and general environmental cleanliness have improved in the larger Mathare area despite low uptake of wearing masks due to economic reasons. 

Curious on how he got the job, Ouko terms himself as a Champion- meaning he is employed by Rotary/Shofco. As a family man a father of two and the sole bread winner in his household, Ouko’s Pre- Covid-19 hustles dried up and championing this hand washing initiative has allowed him sustain his family, employ one person who helps him when he needs a break and still manages to save on average 500/month. “From the outside word, this may seem as inconsequential, but we are really grateful for those that have made this possible, you have helped keep my community safe and helped me meet my house hold obligations” says Ouko as he cleans his tank and pours the collected water in the sewer drain. 

He applauds the NBCC and Rotary Club of Kenya/Shofco, in their efforts to push the hand washing narrative as it’s not only a source of livelihood for him but equally an important hygiene measure and effort in combating the Covid-19 virus.  

As a parting shot, Ouko says this battle against Covid-19 will be won and lost by us, individually and collectively we must own this problem and be proactive in following the protocols listed to ensure we stay safe and healthy. For this he thanks Rotary, Shofco and other partners for their efforts in helping communities like his to stay safe and function in a safe space.  

#Komeshacorona #BizfightCorona.


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