The face of Covid-19 war in Nyeri slums

Boniface Ndegwa demonstrates how his handwashing machine works.

Photo credit: Joseph kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • With a tank filled with water atop a metallic stand, he mounted the first handwashing station at the entrance of Majengo slums.
  • He also has a one-stop centre where he is educating people on how to discard masks.
  • He spent Sh813,000 on the handwashing units across the five slums in Nyeri.

When the coronavirus pandemic started spreading to the counties, Mr Boniface Ndegwa, 27, was busy fabricating handwashing units that would help people living in slums keep the virus at bay.

His idea was spurred by the disregard for Ministry of Health guidelines that could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases in Nyeri County. 

Mr Ndegwa, from Witemere slums in Nyeri, said he observed that normal handwashing that the residents practised was risky as everyone was using the same water point that required touching the tap.

“The aim was help prevent Covid-19 from spreading in the slums where most people are not keen on following the Health ministry protocols,” Mr Ndegwa said.

With a tank filled with water atop a metallic stand, he mounted the first handwashing station at the entrance of Majengo slums, a few kilometres from Nyeri town, attracting a Sh3 million token from the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat).

Handwashing system

Ndegwa came up with a handwashing system whose water and soap are controlled by a foot pedal placed at the bottom of the handwashing point, thus reducing the risk of contracting the virus through touch.

"One just requires to press the pedal once for the machine to dispense soap and pressing the pedal continuously releases water until the hands are clean," he said.

With the UN support that is being released in phases, Mr Ndegwa has managed to install similar handwashing and Covid-19 prevention information stations in Witemere, Kiawara, Junea Chania and Ruring’u Majengo slums.

Besides the hygiene stations, he also has a one-stop centre where he is educating people on how to discard masks and other wastes that can be re-used and recycled.

He noted that it is difficult for people to observe all the guidelines like social distancing and general hygiene in the slums due to lack of water and the crowded living conditions.

No clean water

"The fact that we don't have clean water on a normal day, unless we buy, made me realise the danger is higher than anyone could have thought," Mr Ndegwa said.

Locals buy a 20-litre jerrycan of water at between Sh10 and Sh20, which he said is “too much” for many households who survive on Sh100 a day.

Mr Ndegwa is among the over 30-led youth groups in informal settlements across the country who are stepping up to provide handwashing and other services to boost the fight against Covid-19.

He spent Sh813,000 on the handwashing units across the five slums in Nyeri and to make the liquid soap using locally available ingredients.

Each day, he records between 400 and 500 people washing their hands and projects that so far, more than 50, 000 have benefitted.

Mr Samuel Njihia, a beneficiary of the project, said the one-stop stations have sensitised the community on the importance of washing hands and wearing masks to keep the virus at bay.

Personal responsibility

"Most of us didn't believe there is coronavirus in the country but he has made us take personal responsibility over our health as we interact with each other. Besides, water is expensive but we are washing our hands here for free," Mr Njihia said.

The rest of the Sh3 million, Mr Ndegwa says, will be used on his Trash to Treasure programme that he runs at Nyeri’s former dumpsite, Asian Quarters.

Mr Ndegwa and his team use plastic waste, rubber, charcoal, paper and wood dust to make briquettes while preparing organic manure from compost waste.

They sell their products to local industries and institutions to use as energy.


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