Kenyan Fashion Designer produces masks for his rural community.

“It’s more of a privilege to be born here,” says David Avido, a 24-year-old Kenyan fashion designer. “If I was born in a posh place, I wouldn’t know myself the way I know myself now.” Raised by a single mother, he operates out of a four-room house on the outskirts of Kibera, about a 25-minute walk from his childhood home that is deeper into the settlement.

Avido is leading a team of 12 to produce free face masks for local distribution, a protective measure against the coronavirus disease. So far, about 10,000 masks have been handed out in small batches by friends and community leaders who had heard about the initiative either through Avido or the Uweza foundation a nonprofit providing skills training for the local community.

While the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kenya is relatively low—about 400 at the time of publication—the situation is precarious. Further spread of the disease could decimate the fragile public-health system in a manner that would dwarf what’s happening in the States. As a result, the government has (sometimes violently) enforced a dusk-to-dawn curfew and has restricted movement.

Once the Kenyan Ministry of Health confirmed the first case of the disease on March 12, Avido sprang into action. He knew Kibera, where people live “hand to mouth,” in tight quarters, with limited resources for the necessary sanitation measures to ward against the illness (regular running water, enough money to buy soap or hand sanitizer), was at immense risk.
This industrious young man started mobilizing people from his area and they all got to work. They made lots of face masks from Ankara fabrics and distributed them to everyone they could. Some cut the fabrics, another person would sew and others would package it! Really amazing stuff!

Vincent Ochieng, 33, the Nairobi County director of another grassroots organization, stops by Uweza to pick up masks to pass out to boda boda (motorbike taxi) drivers. Wearing an Avido mask himself, Ochieng notes that there have been government and other organizational efforts to support the people of Kibera with direct cash, food, and hand-washing stations. And yet, he explains, the need is astronomic. “We really need to think through how the guys at the bottom of the pyramid can be able to survive,” says Ochieng. He hasn’t taken a day off since the first case of COVID-19 was announced.

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