Stories of courage and resilience from Grassroots Women Human Rights Defenders and Feminists in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is a production of the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights defenders Kenya (CGHRDs Kenya). This publication was supported and funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

Flavia Anyango. Photo by Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Making Soap to wash away the devastation of COVID-19; Flavian Anyango

My name is Flavian Anyango

I am a mother of one from the informal settlements of Kibera in Nairobi. I am a member of the Feminist for Peace Rights and Justice Center (FPRJC), a feminist organization that mobilizes efforts against sexual abuse and violence of women and girls.

When the pandemic started I was very scared because I had an infant who was still attending his monthly clinics but due to the restrictions applied on movements within the lockdown I could no longer take him to the hospital.

Most facilities around my area closed down due to the restrictions. When the hospitals resumed duties only a limited number of people could visit the facility at a given time hence exposing my son to more risks of contracting other diseases. As a second hand clothes vendor, it was difficult for me to put food on the table for my son because the government had ordered a ban on the importation of second-hand clothes.

This was yet another devastating impact on my business which was my sole means of livelihood. I stayed at home for some time without anything to do and it was too tough. There was no money hence no food to even feed the family and we had to rely on donations which were uncertain. I decided to stay at home but it was too tough on my side since I was not used to staying at home without working, I decided to create covid-19 awareness within the community. In my community, people did not know much about COVID-19.

After going through different trainings on the disease I started teaching people how to wash their hands, how to wear face-masks and how to sanitize their hands. I also emphasized to them the importance of social distancing as well as highlighting the main symptoms of infection. During this period, I encountered ignorance and/or lack of information amongst the people in the community.

Some people did not want to use face-masks because they believed that as Africans they could not be infected because COVID-19 was a “White Man’s disease”. Others believed that only the cursed ones could contract the disease because it was a punishment from God. This was such a sad and reckless way to look at it. Due to the poverty levels in the community many people could not afford the basic safety gears to protect themselves from COVID-19 and that exposed them to greater risks of getting infected by the disease. Necessities such as face masks, sanitizers, soap and regular access to water is almost a luxury in the slums.

Our FPJRC foundation was able to receive few donations from well-wishers to help the most vulnerable families. In the foundation people have different skills that they have learned throughout the year Our founder, Ms. Editar Ochieng came up with an idea to use our skills to help the community and this is how our soap-making project came about. Soap was and continues to be critical for hygiene during this COVID time. We started teaching people how to make soap in the community so that they could earn a living from it and also cut down costs. This way they could have enough for themselves and for the community as a whole.

This idea came in handy and since it made young girls and women become busy it helped them gain a livelihood and also to keep them away from vices and threatening situations. The soap business was very good since it was on demand and almost everyone needed it. We made some good money from it and we used the money to support the community by buying them food and other basic things like sanitary towels for girls.

This intervention however also came with challenges. Once I almost gave up during this project because of the negative feedback I was getting from some people in the community while distributing food to vulnerable families. Even though we were trying our best to reach the most vulnerable of the people in the community, others felt we were being biased in our distribution and so they started insulting me and my colleagues.

This really affected me psychologically because I felt like I was not doing enough to help my community and also felt that the community was not appreciative enough of all our efforts. With time however, I have learnt how to deal with different people in the community and have been able to overcome challenges as they come. The goal is to focus on helping the community as much as possible during this devastating time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.