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Jane Wanjiru (right) receives food donation from an official from Simba Foundation.

Capital Health

Food or COVID-19: Tough choices for families raising children with special needs in slums

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 28 – At the break of dawn, Jane Wanjiru is always on a mission; one, she says, she must pursue if she will see another morning.

But this is not even her story, she says.  

It is a tale of a mother whose 37-year-old firstborn son has special needs- cannot talk, walk, feed himself, or even bathe.

The family is now getting food donations from Simba Foundation.

It is not that Wanjiru can feed herself either-literally speaking- since she entirely depends on food waste at the Dandora dumpsite.

“This is my life,” the 55-year-old, mother told Capital FM News during an interview at her single room in Korogocho slum this week.

Her ’yesterday’, she says, was “full of tears” but now with COVID-19 pandemic- her bucket of worries is overflowing with anxiety and sorrow since the very lifeline is threatened.

The food at Dandora dumping site is not safe but she is worried even more with the pandemic.

She has heard Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe speak of “washing oranges, cabbages and other foodstuffs before consuming.”

But her big question is “how will I ensure the food waste I collect in Dandora is safe for me and my son?”

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Interestingly, her biggest worry is not the safety of that food, she says “but just having something on the table to eat.”

And every time she scavenges through the waste, her prayer is that she will get enough food for the day.

It is an art that requires speed since her son is entirely holed up in the house.

“I leave my baby inside the house since no one can handle him,” wearing a sad face, she said.

After a pause, as if in deep thoughts, she added “you know, I always fear for his safety since there can be a fire break out any day. But I always make sure the stove is switched off.”

Her only competitor her shadow- the only reminder that time is moving.

Two kilometers from her house, Halima Abdi is facing a similar predicament- one that is not unique to her or even Wanjiru-but that is the life of Korogocho residents.

Abdi is a mother of a 20 year-old son, and like Wanjiru’s he too has special needs.

She hates it, but Abdi envy’s Wanjiru since “at least she can move to the dumping site and gather some food.”

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Unfortunately for her, she says, her son’s condition requires that he is with someone all the time.

“I don’t know what to do since I cannot leave him. I have to rely on well-wishers for food,” she said.

With COVID-19, the help is becoming a rare thing, at times they sleep hungry.

Both families are not beneficiaries of the monthly cash stipend for vulnerable people given by the government for people mostly in the informal settlements.

 “People are usually given money?” Abdi innocently posed, just like Wanjiru did.

The government has since set aside Sh10 billion to cushion the vulnerable, the old people and those living with disabilities.

The question that begs now is; what is the criteria for determining how vulnerable one is if Wanjiru and Abdi did not meet this qualification?

But for the next 5 months, Wanjiru can stay easy and bond with her son while Abdi will not have to worry about her next meal.

This is after the two families were selected among 100 needy families in Korogocho and Mathare, to benefit from food donations by Simba Foundation.

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Jane Wanjiru (right) receives food donation from an official from Simba Foundation.

The organization’s Program Manager Emmanuel Oduor said they have been donating food after every two weeks to cushion the less fortunate.

“We have been doing this since June and we feed 200 families with a food basket that can last them two weeks comprising rice, maize flour, sugar, cooking fat, and bar soaps,” Oduor said on Saturday in Korogocho.

He called on other cooperate organizations to partner and help the needy in the society, particularly during this pandemic period.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has extended the night curfew for a further 30 days from July 28 and ordered bars to remain closed until further notice as the country draws closer to a full-blown pandemic, with the peak of the infection projected from August.

“We plan to do this for the next five months and we are calling on other partners to join us because we would not want to stop as long as there is need to help these families cope with the dire situation that we are all in,” he said.

A survey conducted by Infotrak Research shows that up to 87 percent of Kenyans are facing serious challenges in feeding their families.

So serious is the crisis, particularly in urban centres, where 79 percent of people no longer send money to their dependents back in the village.

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