Grassroot groups critical to the Covid-19 response

Artists draw murals and graffiti on the wall of Dedan Kimathi Stadium wall in Nyeri town on July 2, 2020. The project which is sponsored by the National Museum of Kenya aims at reinforcing health education to combat Covid-19.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • With local networks and often meagre resources, the organisations are devising ways of rallying communities to protect themselves against Covid-19.
  • With local networks and often meagre resources, the organisations are devising ways of rallying communities to protect themselves against Covid-19.

Deep in the hearts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu’s informal settlements, staff of a grassroots community organisation move from house to house distributing face masks and food items, comforting distressed community members, and offering a myriad of other direct community services. 

Meanwhile, their colleagues brief a local government administrator on the challenges facing the community and identifying most vulnerable community members in need of support.

Local grassroot organisations have emerged essential participants in the battle against Covid-19. Critical and adaptive, they are juggling community support with ‘donor’ priorities, and championing community resilience strategies for mitigating Covid-19.

With volunteers drawn often from the very communities they aim to serve, these organisations have rallied family members, neighbours, friends, and well-wishers in pulling together resources. 

Take Grace, for example. A member of the Women Volunteers of Peace in Kisumu County , she has worked with her mother to help make homemade face masks for the vulnerable communities. Grace serves in the Manyatta and Nyalenda slums of Kisumu.

To date, she has distributed hundreds of face masks to vulnerable households including children, street vendors, people with disabilities, boda boda operators, and the elderly.

With local networks and often meagre resources, the organisations are devising ways of rallying communities to protect themselves against Covid-19.

In Uthiru, a low-income peri-urban neighbourhood to the West of Nairobi, community volunteers identify vulnerable households, and deliver food rations, while linking poor households with individuals who can offer financial support to meet essential services. In mounting community-led responses, the organisations are restoring hope in communities that would ordinarily be passive recipients.

Latent creative energy

From the work of the organisation Hope Raisers in painting murals that raise public awareness about Covid-19 in Nairobi’s Mathare and Korogocho to the work of women’s groups in Kibera making hand soap, Covid-19 has unleashed a latent creative energy, that has enabled communal and collective action in devising solutions to common challenges.

In Mombasa, Sauti ya Wanawake wa Pwani, a local organisation, is collaborating with the County Government of Mombasa to maintain a ‘situation room’ dedicated to tracking and supporting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). 

Unlike many organisations, whose staff are mostly working from the comfort of their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, local grassroot community organisations are operating on the frontlines with community led responses to the pandemic.

Despite limited resources, these community rooted organisations have sprung into action, in a variety of ways to support vulnerable women, men, children, and youth in coping with the devasting health and socio-economic impacts of Covid-19.

The key question is how these organisations have continued to offer critical services to vulnerable communities while other, often better resourced organisations have either scaled down operations or closed altogether?

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) views civil society as a force which binds public and private activity in a common purpose. We recognise the central role these local organisations play in the design and implementation of community initiatives, and we work closely with them in strengthening their capacity for delivering services and ensuring that they continue to have a sustainable impact. 

In Kenya, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) supports the efforts of grassroots organisations in committing their resources and rallying stakeholders in response to community priorities. With the increase in new Covid-19 cases in the country, these actors will continue to play an increasingly important role in nurturing community resilience.

Larger organisations stand to benefit from local grassroot initiatives that are attuned to the issues those in need face. At AKF, we are leveraging our partnerships with over 900 civil society organisations (CSOs) through the Yetu Platform and county governments to better understand the rapidly evolving context.

This includes adapting approaches and reorientating resources to better meet partner and community needs.

In our Covid-19 response plan, AKF has initiated local resource mobilisation efforts with a focus on three key areas of intervention: Slowing and stopping transmission and spread; providing optimised care for all patients; and minimising impact on communities, the vulnerable, social services and economic activity.

With increasing cases in Kenya, AKF recognises that grassroots organisations will become critical lifelines in supporting the delivery of healthcare and other essential services by the government.

Grassroots organisations are also able to leverage their experience and credibility to drive public health messaging to populations that may be sceptical of government communication.

They help to forge bonds of solidarity and a common purpose between and among communities and play a crucial role in sustaining collective action while holding government to higher levels of accountability.

As international organisations, we need to step up our efforts to support emerging local initiatives and amplify local civil society voices in pandemic response efforts.

Grassroots organisations are the glue that holds communities together. With Covid-19, we need their voice, their expertise, their influence and their extensive presence more than ever before.

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