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Living in Kenya During a Pandemic

By Carol Erickson, Executive Director, Imara International

Several people have reached out to me recently (thank you!) to find out how things are going for Kenya, Imara and me during COVID-19.

Here is an update on life in Kenya with the coronavirus. I have put off doing this because it is hard and strange and there are days I just don’t feel like reliving it all by writing it down. It is hard when you continually get emails from the US Embassy in Kenya telling you that you remain in Kenya at your own risk and that the last flight to the place you call home is leaving the next week. This is not something I ever imagined.

Most people’s lives have slowed down dramatically due to COVID-19, for me the work has increased. We still have 12 moms/kids at Imara and are working with only 2 staff and myself. I have had to take over the role of teacher as well as executive director. It has been a long time since I have had to do all of this. It makes me especially grateful for the Imara team that gets things done each day.

In late March, the Kenya Government decided to take action to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Kenya. At that point, there were only 1 or 2 cases identified. The government mandated that all schools and children’s homes should close. As a rescue center, we were able to keep only the moms and kids that could not travel back to their villages and families. That meant we were left with 6 moms, 2 of which were expecting babies in the month of April. We sent home 12 moms and 13 children. This was really hard for us because we knew some of our moms and kids were going to places where they would not have access to food and clean water. We sent as much food with them as they thought they could carry, but when traveling with all your clothes (for you and your child) it isn’t very much. Each girl carried about 15 lbs. of food.

The moms who remained at Imara got used to a new normal. We had to reduce to a bare bones staff. All schools are closed, the girls are not allowed to leave the compound unless going to the doctor and no one enters or leaves the compound except me and when we change matron shifts every week. Everyone has been incredibly careful to wash and wear masks to try to ensure the safety of the moms and kids. Patience (4 yrs.) is the oldest child left at Imara. I never thought I would need to sew a protective mask for the small girl and try to explain why it is important that she wear it.

Since the initial shutdown, the government has closed Kenya’s borders, travel in and out of Nairobi is restricted, those over 50 can’t work, masks are required, restaurants have closed except for takeout and a curfew has been instituted from 7 pm to 5 am. There is also a police stop between my house and Imara. Every day I stop on my way home and they take my temperature, my id number, phone number, license plates, where I am coming from and going and where I have travelled in the last two weeks. I have to admit that I get tired of stopping every time I leave Imara, but the police and medical staff have gotten to know me and have been kind.

I was really nervous as April started and due dates approached. You can’t travel after 7 pm and it always seems that babies come during the night. If I got a call during the night, I would be at the mercy of the police. Thankfully, Silvia breezed past her due date and was induced. We didn’t have to make any late-night trips, which make me nervous on a normal day but especially so with heightened security measures and the fear of COVID-19. Silvia’s baby girl was born safely in the middle of the day on April 4th, 2020. I spent a lot of time at the hospital (with a mask on all the time). The hospital is not the first place I would choose to be during an epidemic, but I am thankful that we use an amazing maternity hospital that understands that our moms’ need extra support during the birth process. Our second delivery happened on April 15th via C-section. Mitchell delivered a healthy baby girl named Chantelle. Both moms and babies are doing well.

After Easter, we started having class each day. I am working with the moms to fill some of their academic gaps as well as have them review the Kenyan curriculum. By the time this is over they will be saying, “We love to multiply” in their sleep. The girls who are at home have the option of listening to lessons broadcast on the radio or TV each morning. It is not as good as being in school, but I appreciate the effort the Kenyan government is making to ensure the students do not lose ground.

You may be wondering how our moms and kids who are at home are doing. We talk to each one every week just to check in. Several moms and kids have gotten sick (malaria and stomach issues due to bad water mostly). Thankfully, the girls contact us if they have any issues. We support them in any way we can. Beatrice, Imara’s head matron, and I visited all the moms and kids that were within driving range (and allowed, since certain areas in Kenya are closed to traveling). It was good to see them, and we dropped off some food as well. We have bought food for the moms we can’t reach from local shops. Many have asked when they get to come back to Imara. Unfortunately, we can’t answer that question. We have to wait until the danger of COVID-19 is over and the government allows us to fully reopen Imara. Until then, we wait, we wear masks and limit our travel. We also are doing all we can to keep in touch with our moms and kids at home and support them during this hard time.

I thank God that so far, we have been relatively safe in Nanyuki. They have contained most Coronavirus cases to Nairobi and Mombasa, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading here as quickly as in other places. After 6 weeks we have under 500 confirmed cases. Some say that African’s have a greater resistance to the virus, other say it may be because of a TB injection they got as children. We don’t know, but we thank God that so far Kenya has not been ravaged by this virus. Kenya recently extended its precautions until the 21st of May. Until then, we will wait and pray. Thank you for your prayers and notes of support. You don’t know how much they mean to me and everyone at Imara. I know that each of you has also been touched by the coronavirus. Please know that we are praying for you and your safety as we all wait this out together. Thank you again for your faithful support during this time.

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