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How slum teens are coping with Covid-19

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By Wema Toywa

Deafening music floats across one of Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, every single day from mid afternoon to sunset soothing its dejected dwellers.

With Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ravaging the country, the Mathare slum teenagers have found a proper way of keeping at bay the tempting idleness that often drives majority of them into bad company, drugs, crime and teenage pregnancies.

The naive teenagers always participate in an empowerment programme dubbed ‘Slum Children Centre’ offering them the platform to exploit their innate talents like dancing, modeling, singing and drama.

Mr. Jesse Ndunde aka Nduch, the founder of Slum Children Center, working from his modest offices in the impoverished slum has dedicated most of his time during this Covid-19 pandemic period training the teenagers.

Nduch prides as one of the many champions in the area who have abandoned their work to take care of the teenagers at this time when schools in the country are closed until the novel virus is contained.

Before he founded the center, Nduch 35 was a professional dancer who earned his living through the art. The father of two who is married says he does not regret the move of sacrificing his profession.

“Jane” not her real name, a 17-year-old teenage mum who hails from Githurai_ a few kilometers from Mathare slum, understands the dangers of being idle without any counselor on matters life.

“Jane” narrates how life has been difficult for her after giving birth to a baby boy in January 2020. She is unable to buy the baby’s essentials like pampers and even her basic needs like sanitary towels.

The minor, a form three dropout, tearfully explains that lack of parental love and loneliness drove her into searching for comfort somewhere else. She found it in a form three boyfriend and engaged in early sex while in school.

She is compelled to collect the pieces of her life and to turn around her life amid an unsupportive age mate teenage father to her child who also dropped out of school in form three. The father to her child does menial jobs in the area in order to sustain the family.

She frankly notes that she is determined to take care and love her boy, something she says she hasn’t experienced from her mum.

On her part, “Catherine”, a form four student at a local secondary school in Mathare who has embraced dancing at Slum Children Centre during this Covid-19 times sympathizes with Susan’s ordeal.

“Catherine” notes that “Jane’s” case inspired her to do all she can to be in the right company at the Centre to avoid loneliness during her free-time after finishing house chores.

She hopes that she doesn’t find herself in similar situation to derail her dreams of conquering the world. She dreams of exceling in her education and pursue a course that will better her life though not yet decided which one.

She prays that the Covid-19 pandemic would be contained soonest to return to school and clear her secondary education.

According to a research by Plan international in 2019 on teen pregnancies, 98% of pregnant girls were not in school, with 59% of the pregnancies among the girls who were aged between 15 and 19 year being unintended.

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The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) findings show that adolescent males are more than 20 times more likely to engage in drugs, and 5 times more likely to consume alcohol than girls. In addition, being out-of-school increases the risk of alcohol and drug abuse.

The outbreak of the Covid19 led to the closure of learning institutions in Kenya.

However, the Ministry of Education has put in place strategies to ensure continuity of education through distance online learning delivered through radio, television and the Internet.

Need to access TVs, internet and computers for students to participate in learning from home is a big challenge for poor communities like the Mathare slum.

Zacharia Kahwai, the Githurai Empowerment Centre team leader, concurs while noting that idleness among school-going girls is the cause of many teenage pregnancy cases.

Zacharia and his team at the center hold weekly meetings and seminars to educate teenagers against engaging in behaviors that might ruin their lives.

Zacharia, however, states that numerous interventions should be developed during this difficult Covid-19 period to protect teenage boys and girls in the society.

“Wanjiku” (not her real names), a 17-year-old teenage mum, points out that when family tensions run high, many kids find home an uncomfortable place to live.

“Wanjiku” who dropped out of high school in Githurai due to pregnancy in 2019 says that although parents view fights among themselves as their affair, fighting in front of children negatively affect them. This experiences force many of them to run away from home and seek solace somewhere else.

Scientists have noted that Covid-19 affects the young less. This has made many youths not to take the virus infection more seriously. Many young people have been arrested partying and roaming leisurely late in the night during curfew hours.

This carefree behavior by young people has compelled the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to continuously urge them to use their energy and their organizational prowess to help the country in the fight against coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking during the ministry’s routine update on coronavirus, Kagwe told the youth to join the government in creating awareness on the need to obey the directives.

In efforts to provide the jobless youth with a gainful activity in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the government has considered the Kazi Mtaani initiative as one of its interventions.

According to a research by Plan international in 2019 on teen pregnancies, 98% of pregnant girls were not in school with 59% of the pregnancies among the girls who were aged between 15 and 19 years were unintended.

Kazi mtaani programme which is a form of social protection for workers whose daily or casual work has been disrupted by covid19 targets jobless adults in informal settlements with payments made weekly.

The key activities which are undertaken are street cleaning, fumigation, garbage collection and bush clearing as well as drainage cleaning, unclogging and clearing.

The dim, fast falling sun drove me into deserting the dilapidated Mathare slum after spending the day listening to the harrowing experiences of the remorseful teenagers and godsend youth empowerment ambassadors. Just like “Catherine”, I also pray that the killer Coronavirus disease is tackled for normalcy to resume including the reopening of schools for our gullible young girls to be safe from teenage pregnancies.

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