by Jackline Okello
Here is what kept me going when I looked at the situation around me – I think of life as an adventure, like a roller coaster because it brings you ups and downs. This is because things really took a different direction in a span of months. Being a student and a self-employed person, I did not have an easy time as I came to terms with the reality of the effects of Covid-19 pandemic. Personally, I was caught between what to do to heal and stay safe or what to do to make life better and uphold normalcy.
Initially, as schools were ordered to close, I thought my institution would only be closed for two weeks and failed to take much with me. I didn’t take my books and belongings as I thought this would end soon. I only had the option of adapting to the condition for the moment though I felt this was the most difficult time that I faced. As a student, I coped the online way as recommended by my institution that provided a suitable platform for online learning. Consequently, this kept me busy and I was able to uphold continued learning amidst the daily challenges.
Learning at home was not easy but life had to go on as change is the only way to do things differently.
The pandemic rendered me jobless because all potential customers were broke. They no longer even bought the sanitizers that I had started selling. Movement restriction in my country was not easy because I do deliveries to customers up to late and this became impossible. I had to reduce my expenses and adapt to new survival techniques. I had to stay at home most of the time, no business and almost exhausted savings.
My fellow students and friends that I had personally interacted with were swimming in the same river and were sending the impression that there was nothing to smile about. In my own perception, I had to face every challenge with a positive spirit. I never stopped telling myself every time I feel low in the midst of the pandemic that I am stronger than I seem, braver than I believe and smarter than I think.
I had to strain and ensure my general mental health was okay because I am sure I started failing to feel and be at peace within. I had to admit to being served with a good portion of loneliness by the pandemic as most friends had vanished even online and the guidelines of staying at home were being practised as much as possible. I did visit my parents every weekend or at least twice a month but since Nairobi was locked for several weeks, it was not easy for us. The pandemic had forced me to stay away from beloved family members and we had to cope with the situation.
I had to find support from mental health support groups online and practiced personal wellness of both the mind and the body. This kept me going even though it was still not easy. It is unfortunate to have witnessed several young people just withdrawing and going into isolation because most felt everything was not working out as planned. You called someone you know and they confirmed to you that they are not okay.
I offered to volunteer as a counsellor to victims of mental health in my community.
It was okay because you also felt you were not alone in this. I found myself repeating Joseph Campbell’s words ‘‘we must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us’’. I offered severally to volunteer as a counsellor and work with the groups that help and attend to the vulnerable and victims of mental health in my community. I saw mostly women and children suffering because their sources of income had been cut off and for some, depleted as a result of business not being the same again.
I therefore urge the government to focus on its mission to fix broken systems by empowering citizens to eradicate poverty; reducing inequalities and establishing equity when it comes to distribution of essential resources such as ensuring people have reliable water systems and health facilities across the whole country and supporting the vulnerable.
It should continue to intervene and strengthen development activities with measures that can prepare the country for future crises. It is unfortunate that a pandemic is able to render a million Kenyans jobless just in few months and is therefore not only a public health issue but also a development issue affecting the entire socio-economic scale of the country.
Jackline Okello is a member of the Women Students Welfare Association (WOSWA) at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. This blog post is updated with permission and was originally published in August 2020 on the organisation’s website. Follow WOSWA on Twitter and Facebook.
First image is of Jackline Okello standing in front of a WOSWA backdrop banner at one of their events; the second image shows Jackline and other WOSWA members sitting at tables and carrying out a small group activity at an AFFIRM workshop in Nairobi, October 2019.