That dreaded word 'coronavirus'. We all hoped it wouldn't get this far. We all hoped a cure, a vaccine, a faster prevention campaign would happen. But, we are not going to be spared. These are trying times for everyone, everywhere. Some have more than others. Some have nothing at all. This virus does not discriminate. So, we have to find ways to keep our work going, to encourage people, to 'lower the curve'.
To be fair, the Kenyan government took more rapid and more decisive action than many others. As soon as the first case arrived, they closed down the borders to all except returning citizens and residents who were all told to self-isolate. Schools were closed and people told to avoid mass gatherings and to isolate if they felt illl. We have more cases now but, a week after this action was taken, we are still in single digits - so far!
Our small town of Kitale had its first suspected case announced on the news last night - a Kenyan student who had returned from the USA. Until now, perhaps, we have still been able to have our heads in the sand to some extent, but now this deadly visitor has reached our own town.
We took action a week ago to enable the majority of our staff to work from home or to use phone calls to conduct social work as much as possible. We told our kids on the street that we would be maintaining our drop in centre on an emergency basis only, and that they now needed to go home or to friends or relatives and avoid the town centre and crowds, and we would assist in getting them there. Most took heed. Our social workers are urging families to stay home or to stay with relatives in rural environments if they possibly can. They are urging them to maintain distance from people, teaching how to cough and sneeze to avoid spreading any contagion, the importance of hand washing and the importance of avoiding contact with those who are elderly or have compromised immunity. To some degree, this crisis is helping us reintegrate children and youths faster but, sadly, that is a difficult situation to maintain as they are going home to no schools being open, household food supplies being affected by panic buyig, household income being affected by many lose their income.
We work in a country where there is no welfare state,no unemployment benefit, no free healthcare, nothing to offset financial ruin or hunger for those who need it most. The government is not likely to step in and pay wages in endangered industries. Tourism is this country's lifeblood and hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions have closed and staff have been laid off, unpaid, indefinitely. In towns that do not rely on tourism, anyone involved in the travel, retail and entertainment business has seen their income drop. Those in the casual labour sector are still managing to keep their heads above water to some degree but soon the lack of money available to those who have lost their jobs, will filter down to them. Schools are closed indefinitely and those children, without enough food on the table, with pressures at home, will start to come back to Kitale's streets. We are trying to help with extra food baskets for those in need and suggestions on how to cope, assisting people to get to family in safe areas etc.
Our work goes on. We need your help to keep families safe and with food on their table. This virus is not going to stop us doing what we need to do - we will just do things differently! Please help!