“Yes, I come from a place that many have painted as a place of disease, despair, and disorder, of poverty and hardship. But despite the harsh reality of daily life, there are stories of joy and happiness. My mission is to bring these stories to light and thereby bring hope to Kibera – and from Kibera to the world.” – Stephen Okoth Ochieng (Ondivow)
In the time of COVID-19, Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is a city of different realities. While certain neighbourhoods are silent – streets are deserted, residents invisible inside their compounds, their houses stocked with water, food and other necessities – Kibera, Africa’s largest informal urban settlement and home to hundreds of thousands of people, faces a different reality.
Census numbers vary, but the United Nations Human Settlements Programme estimates that 500,000 to 700,000 people reside in the densely populated settlement. Poverty has long defined its narrative, with COVID-19 seen as yet another obstacle in a life of hardship for its residents. Most people exert such effort to sustain themselves and their families each day that the threat of COVID-19 pales in comparison.
Access to water is extremely limited. Most homes have no running water. With only 200 water points for approximately 700,000 residents, regular hand-washing is almost impossible. Despite donations from Kibera designers and NGOs, antibacterial hand sanitisers and protective masks are an expense beyond their reach, and self-quarantining simply isn’t a choice. Maintaining physical distance in Kibera is impossible: people live in tiny, overcrowded homes with few windows. These conditions make it all too easy for a disease like the novel COVID-19 to spread.
After the first case in Kenya was identified,on March 12, the government put in place sweeping measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. From 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. (more recently, from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.), all activity ceases in Nairobi. The curfew, intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, has brought its own dangers, resulting in job loss and an inability to feed the family or pay rent.
Most residents in Kibera are daily wage-earners with no or few resources for navigating COVID-19, which means they have to work to earn enough money to access food for their families and other necessities like rent. This involves travelling through the city, walking or taking public transport, risking exposure to the disease or risking exposing people outside of Kibera to the disease. In a pandemic such as this, the fate of informal urban settlements will impact the trajectory of COVID-19 on a national scale.
While the above is the dominant narrative, Kibera can hardly be reduced to a place of poverty and hardship. Kibera is a mix of diversity, vibrancy, and great capabilities – especially in times of COVID-19, during which the people in Kibera have found strength in their close-knit community. There are countless stories waiting to be told: stories in which the people have taken measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 themselves; stories that give hope to the community.
Through “Risto Za Namba Nane”, filmmaker and stylist from Kibera Stephen Okoth Ochieng – popularly known as Ondivow or Picha Marangi (“colourful pictures”) – and Chris Innocent Owino (Imchristogram on Instagram), CEO and Founder of NovatechMedia, a community of creatives passionate about projects that have a transformative potential to improve people’s lives, aim to change the narrative that has dominated Kibera in times of COVID-19.
Supported by the German Embassy Nairobi, Ondivow and NovatechMedia will shoot a series of short stories titled “Risto za Namba Nane” over the next months on the impact of COVID-19 on Kibera. Ondivow has made it his mission to transform the dominant narrative surrounding Kibera and to restore hope to his neighbourhood.
Follow @Ondivow_Photography and @NovatechMediaKE on Instagram to keep posted on this exciting project. Join the conversation using the hashtags #RistoZaNambaNane and #ChangingtheNarrative and spread the word by sharing the teaser below!
Details courtesy of the German Embassy Nairobi.