“We choose food” — two young people’s stories about how the pandemic has affected their lives

Nicera Wanjiru (Muungano Kibera) conducts a double interview with two young people of the same age who live in Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi. How have their lives have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

The announcement of the first case of Covid-19 brought Kenya to a standstill. Cessation of movement, curfews, lockdowns were never anticipated. The majority of young people lost their jobs. Young people saw their mothers and fathers break up and others were forced to change careers. To find out more I conduct a double interview with Vivian Vushele who hails from Kakamega County and resides in Kibra, and Charles Gicura. Vivian witnessed her parents separate during Covid-19 Pandemic: living with her siblings, they saw another side of their Dad that they had never seen. For Charles, he had to change careers, having trained in hospitality there was no hope for hotel industries. He says it hasn’t been easy.

Looking down at the last year, how were you affected by COVID-19 pandemic?

VIVIAN: For me, I was very much affected together with my family that is when my dad and mum separated. Their marriage became violent and my mother chose to leave. Where my Dad was working they were forced to quit their job, staying at home with no job was not easy. It wasn’t a good environment for them. It actually made my parents separate it really affected me and my younger siblings it something we never thought it would happen to our family, ever since we were young we used to see on how our family was going on and how our family was and future plan for the family was. But now when the corona thing came in. We were able to see the other side of our dad we never knew it was terrible.

GICURA: Well, last year was quite difficult, to say the least. Because with the emergence of Covid-19. A lot of our dreams were shattered, maybe because you were working and lost the job or you had a job opportunity or maybe you had something going on that is maybe school perhaps all of that was shattered because of the regulations that government put in place. You didn’t know what next, you were put in a place where you were living a day at a time.

What has resilience meant to you?

GICURA: The urge to being adaptive. You had to adapt at each day challenge that was put before you, you had to conquer it. Because there was not any other option, so you had to be adaptive of the circumstances that you were facing at that particular time. Also just encouraging my peers and family because it was a difficult time for all of them. So you had to fight not for own self but for others as well

VIVIAN: We had to pick up the pieces. This a family where we used to stay together united. We still have hope and none of us is ready to lose their dreams. We had to cope up with everything we had to pick up the broken pieces and move forward. For me that was resilience, despite all that was happening, we never lost hope.

Has your hope for the future been affected?

VIVIAN: At first they were, so it was that time I was to join a film school but due to that, everything collapsed and so we had now to start another new chapter of life. So everything was shattered.

CHARLES: Well, yes! I guess at my age having to switch careers it can be very challenging. Because you don’t know what next, you don’t have the bearing of life anymore at times you feel like giving up. But you have that spirit telling you to push on. I can say my dreams were shattered at first but by each passing time you realize then you pursue a place for yourself and then for your family too.

As a young person, have you had access to things like water, medicine, sanitizers and information in your community?

VIVIAN: I would say at first when the pandemic arrived I saw some organization which actually tried on bringing this things, water sanitizers but now due to much population they couldn’t sustain it. So we got it like for two months and everything was shattered. We had to strive to get this thing. As a family we chose food over water and sanitizers. In fact, we were struggling to get that food leave alone sanitizers.

GICURA:  Well at first there was this Government directive of providing sanitizers also free water from and also other NGOs around this place. It helped the community a lot a lot. I mean people were depending on the water they were given to wash their hands, the sanitizers to protect themselves from the virus. But as time went by this initiative came to an end, and at the process people started buying these sanitizers from their own pocket money. To an extent it became a source of families fighting because you could see the argument coming up because of one is suggesting they buy the sanitizer and water to wash their hands to protect themselves and the other party is saying we need food on the table. So they were disagreeing a lot based on the fact that these amenities were not provided to us later on.

Were these services affordable?

GICURA: Services such like water were expensive, especially in this part because the population is high we have scarcity and also a lot of people are depending on this water for a lot of things, for their businesses for their daily routine, so water became a very rare commodity. So yes we lack such items in our community for those who could not get free water they had to buy it and it was expensive.

VIVIAN: At first sanitizers were at high price and we couldn’t afford it because of the situation back at home we couldn’t afford that kind of money to go buy sanitizer and leave food so we had to choose food over sanitizer. It wasn’t fair.

Have you been involved in any projects to support your friends or community?

GICURA: Yes I did! We opened a group as young people in my community, this was after safe and inclusive cities training. From this we were able to benefit from certain projects from the chief’s office because we were doing an initiative of cleaning up our community and Kibera at large. From this we were able to benefit from things like water for the community because the chief provided some amenities to us so as we can clean our cities. So in short what am trying to say by opening the group the project just came to us.

VIVIAN: Actually there is a group that am in we went through some training from SAIC which was decent work and safety. We were able to start up a poultry farm and we kept some chickens and actually it has really impacted our lives positively.

Do you think as a country, we are able to cope with pandemics like Covid-19?

VIVIAN: For now am very sure as a country and even individuals we are. This is because the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us a lot in terms of saving the little money you have. Actually when it came it was very sudden so at least now as much as we are spending we need to know we need to save some extra amount of shillings just in case of emergency.

GICURA: Yes! I guess we have a lot of information now as a community about Covid-19 and people are really aware of what we are dealing with compared to the last few months where we didn’t know what this thing was. We also saw people face stigma when you are diagnosed with Covid-19. In fact we saw people being beaten up because they coughed in public. Nowadays people are in a better position of how they judge, of how they behave themselves and everything so I guess yeah, we are at a better place.

Any final messages?

VIVIAN: I would really love for our government to consider our youth because in slums we have so many talents, we have so many gifts. So if the government would really consider it. I think that would be the best thing. Some of us we actually need that small push up maybe us going to school and pursue our education and am very sure we would change the entire city.

CHARLES: YEAH! The whole issue of mental health, I guess it’s the main issue facing young people in this community a lot of people are said to be depressed and also they don’t have the avenues or facilities to go when they face this circumstances. So I feel if the Government can provide facilities where people can go and get counselling so as they can improve themselves and the families they live in.