NAIROBI - In the Soweto slum of Nairobi, volunteers are making soap from vegetables.

The goal is to provide soap for residents to wash their hands and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

About 86% of Kenyans find it hard to access soap and running water each day, according to a UNICEF report last year.

That includes most of Soweto’s more than 70,000 residents, among them Peter Maina.

"Right now, the economy is high," Peter said. "The little I get is for feeding the family. Will I buy soap or provide for my children?"

A man washes his hands with soap and water outside a retail market, amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus, in Nairobi, Kenya, April 2, 2020.

For people like Maina, Kenyan charities such as the Tulinde child trust are filling the gap. The organization’s director, Noel Khatushi, says the poverty levels in the slums are derailing the fight against the coronavirus.

“People in this area, they don't have money to buy soap to wash their hands with," Noel said. "As you can see, some of them don't even have water (for) their hands. But as we give out the soap, we are encouraging people to wash their hands using soap. The demand is high, but the supply is low, because I can't afford to give handouts to all of them.”

Kenya has about 141,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,200 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Authorities are passing out the soap at local meetings explaining the dangers of the coronavirus, as Florence Senelwa from the State Department for Social Protection explains.

"We are able to reach out to many through churches and chief's barazas, and even in the marketplaces." Florence said.

Regulations require businesses to maintain hand-washing sites for their customers, but authorities have found the rule hard to enforce. Barack Ongaro is the chairman of the Soweto slum.

"We try to arrest people so that we can scare them to set up hand-washing points," Barack said. "That water, No. 1, comes once a week. So, you have three to four jerrycans to fill. When you fetch the water, would you set up a hand-washing point or take the water home for shower and drinking?"

Until vaccines arrive, hand-washing, masks and social distancing are the best hope for residents in places like Soweto to avoid the scourge of COVID-19.

 

 

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