At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Josephine Mutilwa worked as a cook, but like Kenya and many others around the world, she lost her job. For the past year, Ed Butler, presenter of BBC World Service Business Daily, has asked how she dealt with it.
“I have no work, no life, no food for children.”
The harsh reality contained in Josephine’s account of the impact of the coronavirus containment measures imposed a year ago came to mind.
Just days after the government issued a strict curfew to limit the Covid-19 epidemic, the single mother, who lives in Kibera’s overcrowded Nairobi district, confronts the plight that many suddenly face. I did.
Her low-paying job in the kitchen of a local school went when students were told to study at home. She was wondering how to support a family of four children.
“I’m just negotiating with God,” a 31-year-old woman told Business Daily. “I don’t know what to do”
However, after hearing about her plight, a couple of generous audiences made donations and intervened.
That wasn’t a huge amount-about $ 150 (£ 110)-but it was enough to allow Josephine to set himself up in the fruit and vegetable business.
She took a bus to a large wholesale market in the heart of Kenya’s capital, bought 25 kg of onions and tomatoes, brought them back to Kibera, and began renting a small wooden kiosk.
Later, Josephine began sending regular audio diaries from her one-room mud-walled hut about her efforts to succeed in the business.
This happened just as Kibera, a huge informal settlement in the heart of Nairobi, was at stake.
Most Kiberans work as maids, cleaners, or drivers, so they slowed the economy as their wealthy employees asked them to stay away from them for fear of causing infection. I was struck disproportionately.
“Children can eat”
Nonetheless, at first it seemed to be against the odds, but Josephine seemed to make it work. She will get eight, perhaps ten, customers a day.
“At least today I received a profit of 170 shillings ($ 1.50),” she told me in a conversation last May. “Children are fine, they are happy, at least they eat.”
But she was always fighting the odds.
Josephine had no experience as a businessman, had curfew, restricted, and completely banned travel outside the city, followed by regular and violent police attacks on those arrested. did.
In addition, she had four children in mind, raising the fear of criminality and sexual violence in the slums.
“Rape cases are on the rise,” she said. “If I leave the children alone, anyone can come in and do anything to the children.”
Also, few people earned the income to pay for what she was selling. Her neighbors like her were absent from work and lived on the savings they had.
Then there really was a disaster. Josephine became infected with malaria and had to borrow money from a local lender for treatment.
This increase in private debt seems to be widespread in informal settlements. A local pawnshop called Rogers told the BBC that he had run out of money to lend, which was a demand for his service.
He said he was selling the household items they provided as collateral because many couldn’t repay the loan.
On her side, Josephine had nothing to trade.
The kiosk was crushed
To date, she fears that an unpaid loan of about $ 30 could face serious problems.
When the government bulldozer cultivated the place where the Kibera food kiosk stood in June last year, her loan repayment prospects became even more distant.
They said they were paving the way for new railroad development.
The government claimed that the owner was given many warnings. But as a tenant, Josephine said she didn’t know.
In addition to the tragedy, she had just put in a large inventory, which was crushed along with the wood structure. Once again, she broke and her dream of making it as a businessman is over.
“I really cried that day. It’s been almost three days. It hurts so much. I couldn’t even eat. And when I look at my current living situation, it’s been very difficult.”
The pandemic itself thus seems to have hit millions in Kenya and beyond.
There were officially about 2,100 Covid deaths in Kenya, but some experts believe that the actual numbers could be much higher.
However, for the Kibera people, their communities have been disproportionately hit by government anti-Covid restrictions, and police actions to enforce the rules often feel violent and noble.
“These people who are alive [on] For less than $ 2 a day, they know you’ll die if you get sick, “says Kennedio Dede, a Kibera-born activist and founder of the local Shining Hope Charity.
“We want the government to confirm that slums are their priority and to ensure roads, health care and clean water.”
However, the government is not trying to lift the restrictions. Last month, a national curfew was extended in the alarming evidence of the third wave of Covid infection.
A year after the first outbreak of the illness, Josephine continues to struggle.
She does not yet have a regular source of income and her children have to live on a glass of porridge a day.
“One day I dream of becoming a doctor,” her eldest daughter, 11-year-old Shamim, told me. “Today I dream of food.”
Josephine was able to get a job occasionally as a cleaner, but one woman told me she hadn’t paid for the three-day job yet.
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But thanks to Shining Hope Charity, a new chapter in her life could soon begin.
She is retraining as a tailor to earn piece work, which her experienced colleagues claim can earn a few dollars a day.
The lessons of the last 12 months have been very difficult, but Josephine stubbornly wants her and her children to become stronger as a result of their suffering.