Agnes Kariuki, Kibera, Kenya

Older people are getting desperate

I am Agnes Kariuki, founder and CEO of the Kibera Day Care Centre for Older People. What I can say right now is that the Coronavirus pandemic has made things very tough for older people in Kibera.

As you know, Kibera is a slum area, in fact the largest slum in Kenya if not in Eastern Africa, where people have no running water and have to buy it at a high price, no toilets, and very congested houses.

Things are bad for older people living in Kibera. This centre has been one of the three centres they would come to get support. But since the ban on public gathering on March 13, 2020 by the government, they cannot come. I am worried about their conditions but I also try to minimise interacting with people, including my older people, since I am also an older person said to be at risk of the coronavirus.

Older People would come here every Tuesday and Thursday to do a number of activities like weaving and making liquid soap that they would sell and get money for; some would even use the money to pay house rent. It is also at this centre where I would communicate government policies and the advocacy messages from HelpAge to the older people. Even the messages on staying safe against coronavirus like washing hand with soap, social distancing and avoiding touching their face, I used to pass it to them while here. But now I cannot. They have all been made to stay put in their houses, assuming they have a house.

In addition, the local Catholic Church, Guadalupe, that used to mobilise its members every Sunday to set aside some alms that they would give to these older people on Mondays is now closed since the ban on church gathering last Saturday. Likewise, the local Mosque which used to provide feeding for Kibera older people on Fridays. No one is allowed to gather. Older people call me to tell me about their conditions and some who cannot stomach it risk their lives intermingling with the youth to come here to ask for alms from me. Mostly KSh 20 to help them buy water or some necessities such as match boxes, salt or soap.

The greatest cry I get from the older people here right now is their wish that the near lockdown would have been implemented after they have been paid their monthly social pension.  The last time the older people were paid their stipend was in January when they got the November and December payment. Right now they have no money to pay rent let alone  to afford stock up necessities should the ban on gathering and walking about prolong. The situation is dire and some are getting desperate.

As an example, Charity Wairimu, who is 84, came to tell me she suffered hunger and could not stay put in her house. She had to come here to see if she could get any kind of support.

Mama Agnes Kariuki is the coordinator of Kibera Daycare Centre for the Elderly, an organisation that caters for vulnerable older persons in Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya

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