In the U.S. and Europe, COVID-19 vaccination rates are approaching 50 percent. Daily routines are beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Meanwhile, in Kenya, the vaccination rate hovers between 0.5 to 5 percent. Projections of reaching just 10 percent by the end of the year taint cause a real sense of uncertainty. Unprotected, the lingering threat of the Delta (India) variant is as real as the almost predictable electrical power brownouts that roll through Nairobi slums.
Kelvin Thuku, Program Manager at Ngong Road Children’s Foundation, reports mixed reactions and impacts on schools’ reopening since May 1. Being back to school presents itself as a very new normal. All students are still required to wear masks and social distancing is a must. These conditions have affected personal interactions and school time is intensely focused on the classroom curriculum. There’s a lot of catching up to do after missing nine months of the 2020 school year. So extracurricular activities are highly curtailed.
For primary school students, opening up schools was great, even with the restrictions. Young kids were getting bored at home all day during the shutdown. They are excited to spend their days at school with their friends and then return home at night.
It’s another story for older students, especially those attending boarding school. Last year’s break made it more challenging for young adults to leave their homes and go back to boarding school life. Their families are struggling financially, and boarding school life restrictions are reminders of what their families back home are trying to manage. Many secondary students found casual labor to help support their family’s economic hardships created by the pandemic. They are worried for their families and concerned that they should be helping sustain their families’ well-being. For some, returning to the streets of the slum last year meant they were exposed to drugs and alcohol, which became a problem.
Returning to the isolated and strict boarding school lifestyle was challenging. COVID-19’s impact is felt by NRCF students and nationally. Disciplinary problems and expulsions are on the rise. NRCF has already had two at-risk cases reach the organization’s Disciplinary Committee in just six weeks, including one expulsion, and two more are on the docket to be heard. It usually would see just two or three of these extreme cases in a school year.
Beyond education, COVID-19’s impact has harshly impacted the local economy, confirmed in a recent NPR story. Gross Domestic Product economic figures show a sharp 5 percent decline during the pandemic versus a standard rate of 5 percent growth. The impact has especially hit the informal economy, where most NRCF families earn their incomes. An already vulnerable population is living in an ever more unstable economic environment. Likewise, several alumni and recent post-secondary graduates report that their employment contracts were terminated last year. Job prospects are weak and uncertain as employers are wary of adding staff after experiencing multiple national shutdowns and reopenings over the past year.
Scare of a fourth wave of shutdowns in July looms. As long as the vast majority of the population is unvaccinated, the economy is at risk, and employers will try to do more with fewer employees. One fortunate alumnus remains employed as a barista. But with half of the staff cut at the company, he’s doing double shifts. NRCF alumni team members continue to do what they can to retain relationships with employers for potential job openings. But new graduates are admittedly unclear and uncertain about what the future holds.
NRCF is pleased to report that its students or immediate family members experienced no direct cases of COVID-19 despite these challenges. The organization continues to strictly adhere to and enforce government health and safety guidelines among its staff and students.
For a complete audio version of an interview with Kelvin, on which this article is based, please visit the Illumini Podcast, Episode 18.