Under an overcast sky on a chilly November morning, a group of people from Waterkeeper Alliance, wearing green waterproof overalls, gloves and gumboots, joined Komb Green Solution, a community-based organisation from Korogocho slum to clean a two-kilometre stretch of Nairobi River.
The river flows from its source in the Ngong Hills, 35 kilometres southwest of Nairobi, through the city, and some 500 kilometres east to the Indian Ocean at Kenya’s Coast.
With the recent rains, the river is flowing relatively fast. Normally, trash and other debris makes it sluggish.
On this clean-up day, the visiting groups working with Komb Green were from local chapters of Waterkeeper Alliance from Kurdistan, Jordan, Senegal, Mali, Sweden and the Bahamas, representing their local groups.
The Alliance held an international regional summit in Nairobi from November 11 to 14–the first in Africa. The summit’s objective was networking and training activities on how to safeguard rivers from pollution.
At the summit, Marc Yaggi, the executive director of the alliance, explained how it came about.
“Some 20 years ago, waterkeeper groups around the world came under the umbrella of Waterkeeper Alliance to set standards for quality control, monitoring, training, raising public awareness and government outreach on the state of rivers.
“Five years ago, there were 150 waterkeepers, most of them in the US. Today there are 350, in 46 countries, with half of them outside the US where the movement started.
“Once you mobilise people to understand that rivers are something they own, a treasure to hold in common trust, then you can convince the government to protect them,” said Mr Yaggi.
On the sidelines of the summit there were site visits, and that is how we ended up at the new Korogocho bridge.
Across the river is the city’s Dandora dumpsite. On the Korogocho side, the slum is a maze of narrow alleys through iron sheet shacks, vegetable plots and a playground built by Komb Green Solution that stretches to a well-tended green park, aptly named Korogocho People’s Park.
The park starts from the edge of the slum to the bridge connecting Dandora and Korogocho. It is this bridge that changed the story of this part of Korogocho.
In 2016, an Italian company was contracted by the Kenyan government to build a bridge to connect the two slums; locals had long relied on a dangerous makeshift crossing. The company approached the community for labour.
“The contractor employed a group of us as watchmen and labourers paying us Ksh300 ($3) a day. But he made us sign a contract that if company property was stolen, we would be prosecuted and could end up in jail,” said Daniel Ndung’u, a self-confessed reformed criminal.
The bridge was built and there was no incident of theft on site. At the same time, there were fewer cases of crime reported by the community.
The old makeshift crossing, being a main artery between the slum communities for commerce and other daily activities, also happened to be popular with muggers and petty thieves both day and night. The communities across both sides of the bridge lived in fear of being mugged at knifepoint and, even, gunpoint.
The new bridge brought changes. It was well lit, making crossing easier more difficult for muggers to operate. “But once the project ended, we asked, ‘what next?'” explained Ndung’u, standing on the new bridge, from where he points to what was once the place where stolen goods were hidden. The spot is now where the Korogocho People’s Park is situated.
Ndung’u says being involved in the construction of the bridge taught them that they could earn an honest living. “We learnt to work hard and earn money.”
Deborah Ogollah, a former sex-worker and a member of Komb Green Solution said that when the work on the bridge ended, they needed something to replace it.
“We started talking among ourselves and to the youth about how we could transform our community,” she said.
A mother of one, Ogollah worked as a sex worker for three years earning Ksh100 ($1) per client and was vulnerable to physical violence. She vowed that her child would not lead the life she once did.
In 2017, a group of 16 former bridge workers got together and decided on environmental clean-up and restoration of the place they call home.
They began by building gabions along the river from the rubble left by the construction company. The gabions helped control soil erosion and flooding on that stretch. Then they cleared the rubbish from the river bank, and planted vegetable patches as an income generation project.
From his savings, Ndung’u now operates a car wash business by the bridge and a kiosk selling second-hand clothes that he proudly shows off.
“We did not want to return to crime,” said Fredrick Okinda, the chairman of Komb Green, who said he has lost many friends to extrajudicial killings, mob justice or from drug use and alcoholism. “You don’t choose to become a criminal,” he explained, “You just find yourself in it.”
Because of Komb Green’s work, there is a stark difference between the two sides of the Korogocho bridge over Nairobi River. The Dandora side is choking from electronic waste and plastic bags. But the Korogocho side, especially along the People’s Park, is clean and green. Komb Green members clean the river every day, including the open sewer drains that flow into the river.
As the trash is fished out of the river, women separate the plastic bags and wash them to be sold to plastic recycling firms, adding to the group’s kitty.
But harsh reality hits when a foetus or a dead body floats by. A few of such discoveries have been given a decent burial in stone-marked graves by the river.
The efforts of the group caught the attention of Leonard Akwany of the Lake Victoria Waterkeeper Alliance who was looking for a social enterprise to present at the summit in Nairobi.
Sam Dindi of the Nairobi-based Mazingira Yetu magazine introduced Akwany to Komb Green Solution. “We did an internet search and met with the group,” he said. They were impressed by their efforts. “These were people representing the ideals of Waterkeeper without knowing it.”
Komb Green Solution
“When the group started in 2017, everybody was against it,” said Mr Akwany. “There was a lot of speculation about why they were forming this group. There were concerns that since some members were known criminals the group could easily evolve into an organised crime gang. But with time they have proven themselves.”
In the beginning, they had no resources and few organisational skills. But they had a dream to change their lives and their environment.
“Their dedication and passion has seen them face these challenges and overcome them,” said Akwany.
“We are now working with them to transform the group into the Nairobi River Waterkeeper so that they can network with the global waterkeeper community and get support,” Mr Akwany added.
Now with 69 members from an initial 16, and under the mentorship of the Lake Victoria Waterkeeper, Komb Green Solution has a committee run by a chairman, secretary and treasurer, assisted by a decision-making committee that plans the work and addresses other operational issues.
The group meets every Sunday. Members pay Ksh100 ($1) towards a kitty that is used for emergency needs, and the rest is banked in a savings account.
Donations from well-wishers are trickling in and recently the group received an award of Ksh100,000 ($1,000) from local non-profit organisation Public Space Network, when it won a competition for youth-led initiatives transforming public spaces around Nairobi.
The Korogocho people’s park has a dedicated children’s playground–with swings and slides made from scrap metal–and a toilet with running water.
As we walk along, we arrive at a green plot with kale, tomatoes, and a lemon tree in the middle. “We have two plots like these. The fresh produce is for the children,” said Ogollah proudly.
The plots are tenderly cared for and the members hope that one day the river water will be free of pollutants and they could use it to water the crops.
I ask Ogollah what the name Komb means. “It’s a corruption of the hair comb. We want to comb our lives clean,” she explained.
The success of Komb Green has inspired other people living along the river. “We are helping other groups in the slums along the river to organise themselves,” said Ogollah.
The Waterkeeper Alliance is the fastest-growing global movement for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.
The group was started more than 50 years ago along the Hudson River, US, that drains into the Atlantic in New York state.
Local fishermen became alarmed that the once clean river full of sturgeon was becoming so polluted that the iconic fish was fast decreasing. The fishermen were advised by a sports journalist that they could sue polluters to protect their river.
They hired the first riverkeeper, a man named John Cronin. On his first patrol, he found an oil tanker whose crew was stealing the fresh river water to take to the Bahamas. When he pulled up to the tanker, they asked who he was and he replied, “I’m the riverkeeper.” He was accompanied by the sports journalist who captured the moment. It was the start of the river keepers.
Lake Victoria Waterkeeper
In 2015, Akwany heard about Waterkeeper Alliance at a conference in the US. He had founded Ecofinder Kenya in 1999, concerned about the degradation of Lake Victoria from industry waste, sewerage, farming and fishing.
In August, he was awarded the African Ranger Award given to rangers who work to conserve wildlife and combat poaching, habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade.
“Waterkeeper Alliance is a good model, placing local leadership at the forefront of waterways,” said Akwany, who was born near Lake Victoria’s shores. “It’s about how to empower waterkeepers and sustain them. It’s about using environmental laws and policies to defend waterways.
“For example, a safe and clean environment is in Kenya’s Constitution including the right to clean water for every citizen. We can tap on these to push for accountability.
“We have more than a 1000 volunteers around the Kenyan shores who monitor the water for E. coli and record the acidity levels of the water. We can use these results to advocate for change.”
Save the Bays Waterkeeper, Bahamas”Our issue is lack of environmental laws,” says Rashema Ingraham from the Bahamas.
“So developers use our islands for operations in industry and tourism. Developers in the tourism industry are looking for the most pristine locations to build hotels and golf courses, uprooting mangroves and damaging coral reefs. Even Disney wants to build a cruise port on Eleuthera Island, which will involve dredging the ocean. The mangroves and beaches will be destroyed.”
Despite lobbying to have the island protected, the government did not.
“Yet it’s an important transit zone for sharks, whales and dolphins. We are working with other NGOs to ask Disney to consider cancelling their project. We are putting pressure on the government to have environmental laws,” Ingraham added.
The Bahamas has 17 inhabited islands and 700 small keys, most low lying. Without the protective barrier of the mangroves and the reefs, the islands are increasingly prone to floods that could destroy property.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.