For Grace Adhiambo, the COVID-19 pandemic signaled an end, for now, to her peacebuilding initiative in Kisumu county, Kenya, as the government banned gatherings and non-essential movement. Grace is the founder of Women Volunteers for Peace, an organization that works with the Aga Khan Foundation’s Yetu Initiative. Over the past few years, she has worked with young people, especially women, by supporting and improving their role in peacebuilding activities.
As Coronavirus cases increased, the government began directing Kenyans to wear masks whenever they are in public. However, accessing masks became a challenge for many, as they were unaffordable. This led to cases of harassment by police officers enforcing the mask directive.
“With many Kenyans living from hand to mouth, and the slowdown in economic activity, buying a mask is not a priority for many low-income earners,” notes Grace. “A family of five will need to spend KES 500 (USD $5) to buy masks,” she adds.
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As a way to help make masks more accessible, Grace urged her mother, a tailor, to make homemade masks for the community. Four more volunteers joined them, and they started making masks following World Health Organization guidelines. To date, Grace has distributed hundreds of masks to low-income families in Kisumu county. This includes children, street vendors, boda-boda (motorcycle) operators, the elderly, and other people in need.
She also partnered with other youths to form the Kisumu Youth Caucus, a grassroots network of young people that promotes awareness among community members on ways to mitigate COVID-19. Grace and her team of volunteers rely on the support of the community to continue producing and distributing masks.
While she has had to change her day-to-day activities, Grace believes this is the right thing for her to do right now. After the pandemic, says Grace, the main question we will ask ourselves will be: What did we do to help the most vulnerable during the crisis?
Women Volunteers for Peace and Kisumu Youth Caucus are members of the Yetu Initiative’s community of practice, which brings together Kenyan civil society organizations to enable networking, sharing of best practices, and collaboration on projects. Yetu — meaning “ours” in Swahili — is a partnership funded by the Aga Khan Foundation and USAID. Since its inception in 2014, Yetu has worked with civil society organizations (CSOs) to advance principles of self-reliance and locally led development.