EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON THE PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT OF STREET CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN KENYA

As the Coronavirus spreads in the Country, everyone is worried about keeping themselves and their family safe. It would be an understatement to say that the past month has been a roller coaster.

 

 

As of April 7, 2020, more than 170 positive cases had been reported in Kenya.  We are living in what has rightly been called unprecedented times with the global emergence of COVID-19. With a new set of rules for daily life, normal lives have been altered leading to a culture shock on humanity a cross the world. It is as though we do not recognize the landscape. In some ways, everything has changed.  

So far, Children seem to be less vulnerable to severe infection. However, it is not an excuse for them to be neglected as far as protection and safety measures are concerned. It is still necessary to prevent the minors from being infected and spreading it to others, especially the elderly in the community.

 

In that regard, street connected children and families are no exceptional and the government continues to issue rigid measures in the race to contain this pandemic including twilight to dawn curfew, social distancing and recently, the 21 days president’s directive  on cessation of all movement by road, rail or air in and out Nairobi Metropolitan area.

These measures have a ripple effect on the wellbeing of Street connected children and families.  For instance, they depend so much on well-wishers for handouts daily (passersby and motorists on the roadside, Non-governmental Organizations and good Samaritans for feeding programs, etc.). Social distancing, curfew and cessation of movement measures have led to a reduction of the population in major cities like Nairobi, with many offices being closed for temporary time. Hotel industry has changed its mode of operation whereby food providers are now selling unpacked products leaving nothing for these children who rely majorly on the left overs. Dusk to dawn curfew restricts them from going around looking for food. Social distancing has also affected the manner in which they relate to amongst themselves. Rarely could you find a street child walking down the streets alone hence, this new way of life has affected them psychologically.

 

COVID-19 is also limiting reach and work of established NGOs and humanitarian agencies. However, rather than waiting while doing nothing about the  situation on the ground, Group for Transcultural Relations (GRT) continues offering psychosocial support and food aid to this special group of people in the society. These activities are in line with the mandate of GRT that complement government’s effort in the fight against the pandemic. GRT has been implementing a project titled “Boresha Maisha. Alternatives of Life for Street Children and Unaccompanied Minors in Nairobi” for the last three years with the aim of improving their psychosocial wellbeing. Various activities have been organized like sports, life skills sessions, talent development sessions, among others. Many children have been reintegrated back to their families and supported in joining education either primary or vocational all around Kenya. Due to the COVID-19, emergency GRT had so stop most of the field activities in order to fulfill government obligations. Nevertheless, the new pandemic has been a great opportunity to explore other methods of work. Thanks to the technology for the invention of Zoom, WhatsApp, Hangouts meet and many other platforms, GRT is able to conduct its staff meeting where most alarming cases are discussed and possible solution found. The psychosocial support officers are able to do follow up on the beneficiaries by making phone calls to caregivers and visiting the ones in the streets while observing health measures. 

The Indian Community in Nairobi through the Visa Oshwal Community, has shown a lot of commitment to the street children and families cause by offering food donations to mitigate the situation of distress in which they are living in. GRT, as the lead coordinator of the Nairobi Street Children and Youth Consortium, has been able to coordinate the effort and 36 Organizations working in this sector are receiving food donation weekly. GRT is also being supported with food donation by the Raha Kids centre and has been able to reach out to more than 100 beneficiaries (street youth and mothers, reintegrated children and refugee children and youth).

GRT being among the beneficiaries has been able to support 18 street connected women with food baskets on Monday 6 April. The donation of food is just a small drop in the ocean but it is important to demonstrate to them that they are not alone and we are there for them. They know that they can always call when there is a need and they have a shoulder on whom to rely.

 

Isolating or withdrawing from others is difficult and can be a stressor to a child whether in the family based environment or in the streets. They communicate in a special way and find happiness when in a group. In the same spirit, street children and families deserve protection and fair treatment from government and the community to be able to deal with the stress during this wearisome time.

We believe that as an Organization that is working to serve the most vulnerable in the community we should not stop our support by finding innovating ways of continuing by making sure that we keep safe. Provision of phone calls support is helping them to feel loved and accepted and can prevent relapses and negative behaviors.

 

Enock & Elena - GRT Nairobi

Nairobi, 7/4/2020

 

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