Nairobi, 9 February 2022 – Nearly 5,000 school children in two informal settlements in the Kenyan capital are better protected against COVID-19 as a result of an UN-Habitat initiative to expand mask and recycling bins in those often-overlooked areas.

The three-week initiative in Mathare and Kibera informal settlements is in line with UN-Habitat’s commitment not only to upgrade the quality of life in slums worldwide but also to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to all citizens as a step toward providing more sustainable urban development.

The Youth-led COVID-19 Emergency Response initiative comes under UN-Habitat COVID-19 Response Plan adopted in April, 2020, which has as one of its main objectives the leveraging of experience, expertise and partnerships to deliver solutions. UN-Habitat has an extensive network of youth partners built up over its 20 years of programming with young people globally. Working with these partners on the ground we have brought together central and local governments, youth, communities and UN agencies to make the COVID-19 response impactful, especially with those in informal settlements and slums.

One key prevention method is masks. The most recent mask initiative facilitated the distribution of 6,577 surgical face masks to 2,226 students in seven schools in Mathare and 8,730 masks to 2,500 students in five schools in Kibera slums, for a total of 15,307 masks distributed to 4,726 students.

“We would like to say thank you for the surgical face masks. This will help us study with no worry of contracting of COVID-19 virus as we prepare for the upcoming National Exams in March,” Rebecca, Class 8 Representative at Kibera’s Raila Education Centre said.

UN-Habitat expands COVID-19 Prevention in Kenya’s Mathare and Kibera Informal Settlements
[MECYG/Gerry Gerison_Lumumba]

Face masks, donated by the Korean National Committee for UN-Habitat, were distributed by Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG) and the Kibera Community Emergency Response Team (KCERT) to assist community members in their prevention response to COVID-19. Also, to limit the environmental impact of disposable masks and promote economic empowerment, the elastic cords from the masks will be reused by women tailor cooperatives. Along with the masks, recycling bins were also distributed to each of the schools.

“The bins will be used for the safe disposal of all kinds of surgical masks, not only for the ones distributed today but also for other kinds that the learners and teachers may have,” explained Mary Hiuhu, Programme Coordinator for the Youth-led Emergency COVID-19 Coalition. “The activity ensures that each student acquired at least three masks, with members of the MECYG and KCERT conducting the garbage disposal and recycling process in Mathare and Kibera respectively.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States says students benefit from in-person learning and recommends universal indoor masking for all students.

“The past and current support of the Youth-led Emergency COVID-19 coalition has been invaluable to our work,” said Doug Ragan, UN-Habitat Programme Management Officer. “This is an example of how youth-led agencies can play a key role in public health and other emergencies.”

The Youth-led Emergency COVID-19 coalition was founded in April of 2020 by the Governments of Kenya, Norway, Canada, Somalia, Habitat Norway, Water is Right, Victor Wanyama Foundation, and the County Governments of Mandera, Nyeri, Kisumu and Mathare.