12-year-old Diana Anyango lives in Korogocho, the fourth largest informal settlement (or urban slum) in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a place where people live in close quarters, often without power or access to running water. Makeshift houses constructed from wood and iron are raised precariously two or three floors high. Clothes are hung out to dry on old electricity cables, stretched across narrow alleyways. From a wooden balcony, Diana looks out over the rusted rooftops to the formal houses and tower blocks beyond the settlement. The street below, usually busy with vendors and “boda-boda” motorbikes, is half empty. A few pedestrians walk past wearing face masks.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya, Diana loved going to school. She spent much of her free time at ACAKORO, a community-based organization, supported by UNICEF, which uses football as a tool for development. Diana used to play as a defender. But then, at the end of March, schools in Kenya were closed because of the pandemic. Shortly afterwards, movement in and out of Nairobi was banned. Diana’s parents were out of town at the time and couldn’t return, so she was looked after by her neighbour, Beatrice Akinya.
Back indoors, Beatrice supervises Diana’s learning along with her own son Jackson. She calls Diana’s tutor, Pauline, who sends her the assignments. Once Diana has completed them, she sends them back for marking. Through her smartphone, Beatrice is also able to access notes, past exam papers and textbooks.
“I miss seeing my friends at school and playing football,” Diana says. “I can’t play now due to coronavirus. But I enjoy the tutoring sessions with ACAKORO. After studying, I want to become a journalist.”
As well as funding organisations like ACAKORO to tutor vulnerable children, UNICEF is supporting the Government and Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) with remote learning and getting schools ready to reopen safely.
“UNICEF is supporting KICD to develop additional content for pre-primary and primary lessons, which are broadcast through TV and radio, and uploaded to the internet,” says UNICEF Kenya Education Specialist Constance Kouakou. “We’re also mapping children’s access to lessons across the country and distributing learning materials and solar powered radios to the most vulnerable families, in order to make sure that children can continue to learn.”
To help with the safe reopening of schools, UNICEF is working with the Government on guidelines for water and sanitation facilities in schools. And the children’s organization is continuing to install hand-washing facilities in schools that do not have them.
“UNICEF looks forward to the safe re-opening of schools,” Constance continues. “We’re concerned that the long school closures are leading to increased cases of violence against children, including sexual abuse and gender-based violence. Also, studies have shown that the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that the poorest among them will never come back.”
Near to where Diana lives, 65-year-old Beatrice Khalayi homeschools her foster son Gibson, 11, and grandson Alfani, 12. She helps both boys with their studies, while following a guide sent to her via smartphone. Beatrice does not own a phone herself but was able to borrow one from a neighbour. Today’s subjects are science and mathematics.
Most families living in Korogocho cannot afford a TV to watch broadcast lessons. However, most people either own or can access a budget smartphone. ACAKORO gives airtime and internet bundles to caregivers who do have phones, while distributing printed copies of the materials to those who don’t, so that their children can also continue with their studies.
It’s been many decades since Beatrice was in school but she enjoys helping Gibson and Alfani with their schoolwork. “The more the children learn, the more I learn myself while teaching them,” she says. “ACAKORO follow up on the pupils and this has ensured that children continue with their education where they left off.”
Like Diana, Alfani is looking forward to going back to school in January 2021. “At school, the children study together and we help each other. I miss doing that and playing football,” he says. “Learning from home is difficult but at least we can call a tutor at ACAKORO and they can assist us. When I grow up, I want to be a professional football player.”
This article first appeared in The Star newspaper on 14 August 2020.