Ruth and Elizabeth lead the group through an intricate maze of tin houses. The terrain is muddy. We are in Kibera, Kenya, the largest slum in Africa and the third largest in the world, with a population that varies between 500,000 to well over 1,000,000 depending on the source. Here, most residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$1.00 per day. Along the path, we see children playing dangerously close to the open sewage. A colorful mural brings some beauty to Kibera, but hope seems to be a concept that abandoned this place a long time ago. For Ruth and Elizabeth, on the contrary, hope is alive and well. They were both able to open their own small businesses thanks to AVSI’s “Tumikia Mtoto” (“Serve the Children”) project. We are on our way to visit their businesses.
COVID-19 has not slowed the need to improve educational outcomes in East Africa. If anything, the global emergency has thrown a spotlight on learning disparities in developing nations. The educational professionals and researchers at Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education in Uganda (LGIHE) – an AVSI-USA long-term partner – have been working for over a decade to promote teaching methods that unlock the full potential of each learner. “School leaders and teachers are the linchpin to the radical change needed to ignite self-awareness and critical thinking in learners,” said Mauro Giacomazzi, Institutional Development Advisor for LGIHE.
Alice’s favorite time of the day is sunset. She and her husband wait for their six children to come back from school. They sit together around a cup of tea and talk about their day. But Alice’s routine was not always so pleasant. Before joining AVSI’s Better Outcomes project, returning home at sunset was a nightmare. Everything she earned would be spent on alcohol by Robinson, her husband, leaving nothing to buy food for their children. When she tried to talk with Robinson, he would inevitably raise his hand at her.
“It was draining,” remembers Alice. “I couldn’t bear seeing my children starving.”
Studies show that school closure during COVID-19 has adverse effects on children and adolescents. Young people are anxious and worried that they will never go back to school. Bernadetta Anieno, 18 years old, is no exception.
“They kept postponing the reopening, and I was losing hope,” remembers Bernadetta, who has been studying at AVSI long-term partner Luigi Giussani High School in Kampala, Uganda, since 2019. “I was just home doing nothing, not even reading. One day, I asked myself what I would become if I kept being home just watching TV?”
A year ago, Henry Waitindi and Lynn Brooks left their respective homes 8,000 miles apart from each other in Nairobi (Kenya) and Houston (Texas) and headed to the same destination, The Summit Bechtel, a reserve in West Virginia that hosted the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. They had never met before, but they shared the same dream: to promote Scouting’s purpose and principles worldwide.
Agnes Mukantibenda, 50 years old, is married and has five children and three grandchildren. AVSI met her in 2013 when we launched an Early Education Center in her village, Munyinya, in Gicumbi, a district in Northern Rwanda. Since the beginning, she has been one of the most active parents involved in the activities of the center. In 2015, she became the chairperson of the committee “Tumurengere”. One of Agnes’ children was part of the AVSI distance support program. She was so glad that her son could study that she decided to volunteer to help other children receive the same opportunity. Her job is to regularly visit 12 vulnerable families in two villages of Kabeza and Rwamushumba. During her visits, she learns and checks on how children and parents are doing, and if they have any specific needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped her commitment.
William Lenga, 52 years old, has been working as a boda-boda rider for the last two years. Boda-bodas are bicycle and motorcycle taxis commonly found in East Africa. William’s task is even more specific and vital: he urgently transports an ailing pregnant woman, a mother of a newborn, or an infant under five years old to the nearest health facility for medical attention. When the first positive case of COVID-19 was announced in Uganda, William started worrying: how could he keep helping mothers in his community and care for his eight children’s safety?
Many Syrian women have to support their families alone. Thanks to the Italian Agency for Developing Cooperation funds and in collaboration with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, AVSI works in Eastern Ghouta to help Syrian widowed women start small agribusinesses.
Thanks to the Imarisha Jamil Project, AVSI Kenya has been helping refugees like Uwimpuhwe Marie Josee and Uwena Devota to enhance their social and economic resilience.
Bangio Ali, Education Officer with AVSI Kenya, shared her testimonial in the collective brainstorm “Educating Girls”, Organized by leading think-thank Friends of Europe.