By Megan Anyango
Immediately after Kenya announced its first positive case of coronavirus, Jane Atieno received a call from her boss telling her not to report to work until further notice.
That was in mid-March, 2020.
Before then, Atieno used to report to work four times a week and would earn Sh15, 000 per month.
Her employer had a stay-in nanny. So Atieno’s chores were mainly doing the laundry and cleaning the house.
But since March, Atieno leaves her tiny single room at the sprawling Kawangware informal settlement, daily, to wander from estate to estate with the hope of getting a day job to make just enough to buy food.
She has mostly been unlucky.
“I have been moving to areas near Lavington, Kileleshwa and Kilimani. But since March I was only called once,” she recalls.
Even after getting the ‘job’, she was not allowed to enter the house, “the children were locked inside the house and the clothes were put outside.”
She was paid Sh300 for washing the laundry, “It was like Christmas. Nilipeana shilingi 100 kwa rent ya kufunga landlord macho na hiyo ingine tukanunua maharagwe na unga ya kupima ( I paid the landlord Sh100 to just show I was committed to clearing my arrears and then I used the other one to buy beans and flour).
That was the last money she made. And that was in early April.
The mother of three has rent arrears. She relies on well-wishers to give her food together with her children.
She joins the long and growing list of women mostly from informal settlements within Nairobi who used to work as day house-helps to eke a living, but no longer work due to growing fears of contracting COVID-19.
Kenya has so far confirmed 3,860 positive cases with 1, 326 recoveries and 105 deaths (as at 16th June, 2020), a clear indication that the transmission of the virus is exponentially increasing.
Nairobi tops the list of infections with Kawangware and Kibera slums listed among the hotspots.
With such a growing curve, most uptown households in Nairobi are turning away their day house-helps to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
On the other hand, some employers are sitting on the fence, also swimming in the same boat struggling to stay afloat despite the deflated economy – whose recovery still remains uncertain as the virus ravages the world.
The financial debacle which is far from over has torn apart the gains made to empower women like Atieno.
However, it should be an opportunity for the stronger people and institutions in the society to uplift a sister, a mother or a friend during this difficult time.
“The thing that has kept me alive since the outbreak of this coronavirus is donations of food from good people and groups,” says Atieno.
Since the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic is here with us – with indications it may not be going away anytime soon and even if it does – the economic damage will take long to repair, let’s support the women that we call Mama Fua.
When you see them perched on stones and pavements, do not pass them. Those whose numbers you have saved in your phone, please call them.
You may not give them a job, this is understandable – but at least offer them food or support them financially to help them cater for the basics.
And while at it, remind them, and yourself, to always obey the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 protocols-to maintain hygiene by always washing hands, sanitizing and maintaining the social/physical distancing.