Kenya’s youth lead the way on COVID-19 prevention in informal settlements

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12 August 2020 – Youth-led organizations in Kenya have led efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Kenya by setting up facilities in informal settlements which have seen 1.5 million handwashes.

The Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, said the facilities were set up after youth from the Mathare Environmental One Stop Centre in one of Nairobi’s informal settlements approached her with an urgent call.

“They said something needed to be done immediately to stop COVID-19 in informal settlements, and we have an idea on what we can do,” said Ms Sharif, “Five months later we see the results. We have activated our One Stop Centres in Kenya and Somalia and taken joint action which has seen 1.5 million hands washed, slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives.”

The quick action of Mathare Environmental spread throughout the youth community in Kenya and by April, 34 youth-led groups had set up hand washing stations, supported by UN-Habitat and partners from the governmental, non-profit and private sector.

A symposium celebrating the success of youth actions to prevent COVID-19 in the informal settlements was organized by the Government of Turkey, the Turkish Municipality of Balikesir, Habitat Norway and UN-Habitat.

One key aspect of the meeting focused on the need to empower communities to take action, as reflected UN-Habitat’s COVID-19 Response Plan.

“One of the three focuses of our Response Plan is the support of local government and community driven solutions, especially in informal settlements,” said UN-Habitat’s Executive Director.

The Symposium was supported by UN 75, a global dialogue launched by the UN to listen to people across the world, especially youth.

“Many youth of today have stepped up to the plate. Young people are redefining the world as we know it. Youth are demanding the change you want to see from leaders,” stated Under-Secretary-General Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond, Special Adviser on the United Nations 75th Anniversary, “We are seeing it across the globe - youth are making their voices heard. You are creating movements that ripple across cultures and borders. You are taking the future into your own hands and ensuring that progress happens.”

One of the main sponsors of the youth-led action against the virus has been the Government of Canada, which is funding COVID-19 prevention and hand washing stations in Nairobi, Mandera in Kenya, and Kismayo in Somalia.

“Canada believes in the strength of young people and their power to create positive change. This is one of the reasons we are so proud to support initiatives that empower young men and women to play a meaningful role in community-led pandemic responses,” stated Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, Lisa Stadelbauer.

“We’re proud and honoured to work with UN-Habitat to partner with youth-led Community-Based Organizations such as the Mandera Anti Drug Movement, Mathare Environmental One Stop and YPEER-Somalia through our Canada Fund for Local Initiative programme.”