I am glad I am able serve my community and play my part in keeping my neighbours Covid-19 safe...
I leave Ouko’s station but before I do I ceremoniously wash my hands like Pontius Pilate, I answer questions from his data collection sheet and head off to Shofco number 10 where I meet Dominic Omondi. Unlike Ouko, Dominic is a volunteer. Serving between 1400- 1600 people per day, Dominic has manned this station for 3 months and has seen numbers of those washing their hands fluctuate up and down based on community sentiments.
“I get sad when I hear statements like why should I wash my hands and I am not going to eat disturb him more so when coming from the more audible voices in the community” says Dominic. He added, “I understand there is fatigue among us but people who chance with our lives in the community hit a raw nerve in me”.
Dominic who previously volunteered as a football coach for Shofco is now content volunteering at the water station, noting the Ksh. 3000 stipend he gets every month helps him pay his rent. It’s not easy to manage in this Covid-19 economy he says, as I am currently supporting my parents, my wife and 2 children. Being very busy, I let Dominic attend to his station and I move to Mathare 4B – ODM where I meet Caleb Ngala.
Soft Spoken and very purposeful in his conversation, Caleb finds it easy to converse in English and he tells me “ Besides manning the hand washing station, I collect data and disseminate messages from my location to people on how they can keep safe during the pandemic.” Having previously worked selling mayai gonga boiled eggs with kachumbari, Caleb saw his daily sales dip from 3 crates per day to about 10 eggs per day once the curfew was imposed. This threw a spanner in the works for Caleb and his finances, getting to a point where they had to dip into his wife’s finances to survive.
His journey into manning this station started when he approached his friend who works at Shofco and he was assigned to manage a water station near his house. His day starts from 7.00 AM – 8.00 PM where 1800 people use hand washing facilities per day. “Over the last 3 months I have had numerous experiences noting similar spikes and dips in usage of the hand washing station” said Caleb. He however notes that most of the residents in Mathare work in Eastleigh, and after the latter was locked down and re-opened, these workers are very purposeful in ensuring they clean up before exiting and entering their homes.
Unlike Ouko, Caleb’s challenge remains access to water, having to fill his tank 3 times a day, his nearest watering point at Shofco runs out of water during the morning hours thus forcing him to buy water from elsewhere. However shocking to me is that Caleb does not close shop when water runs out, he dips into his pocket and buys water spending Ksh. 50-75 per day to refill his tanks and keep hands clean.
Naturally I asked why he does this and he noted this opportunity has given him much more than his daily expenditure. “When I got this job I was financially deficient, my wife and I had spent almost all our savings but now we have been able to restock her business, serve the community and play my part in keeping my neighbors safe.” For Caleb, this blessing of having this job overrides the water buying expenditure in what he terms as God’s grace and his way of giving back.
As an orphan and orphaned at a very young age, living as a street boy- life has been hard for Caleb and the father of 4 has seen it all; hardened by life you can see why he holds this position with such delicate hands. Today courtesy of this opportunity, Caleb aspires to take himself for a tailoring course and learn a skill he can use later in life. The hope in his eyes as he speaks about his future plans tells it all- this is a man who grasps at opportunities with both hands.
Indeed to the myopic, Caleb, Dominic and Ouko man hand washing stations, but in reality they represent the frontline and first line of defense against Corona. Their stories also carry the hopes and blessings in their lives borne out of a pandemic and how each one of them has risen out of the ashes to being hopeful and dreaming positively amid the pandemic. These thee gentlemen are testament that in giving or supporting the needy communities respective partners support livelihoods and the macro-economies that keep the said communities. With a few thousand hand washing stations spread out countrywide, thousands of youth and families have sustenance and savings and from them will emerge more community champions to drive our messages home.
Well the sun is about to set and I was my hands as I bid Caleb kwaheri and as I step back into my world, I leave with a lot of emotions, lessons and appreciations of the unsung heroes that literally make our collective efforts work. To these people I salute your effort, your commitment and resilience and as I look forward to my next engagement, I am not sure what the school of life will throw my way… but like me step out of your world and experience the other side life as it happens beyond our laptops.
Do stay safe and play your part in keeping others safe.