Last week ERFA facilitated a video meeting between our Kenyan Office and the students from Victoria’s Parade College to discuss the impact of COVID-19. For the young men of Parade, the meeting was a candid opportunity to gain a perspective of the unequal effects of the pandemic. For one, social distancing is a luxury not afforded to many Nairobi residents, who live in confined spaces.

Despite the vast differences, both groups were able to find common ground in the struggles their communities are facing.

The below has kindly been shared and written by Kylie Kuppe, Director of Ministry at Parade College.

On Wednesday 2nd September I was privileged to be part of a gathering of young people from Parade and from Nairobi, Kenya. They shared about how the virus was impacting their lives and the lives of those around them. They discussed education as a “powerful weapon that can be used to change the world,” and what they love about their countries and cultures. The Kenyan young people are part of a youth group that runs camps and sporting competitions and teaches about human rights in Kibera, a congested urban settlement in Nairobi, often referred to as a “slum”.

Such international opportunities offer rich experiences for all involved and we look forward to being involved in many more, across our vast Edmund Rice international network, in future. Here are some reflections from some Year 11 and 12 students who took part:

“Perhaps the most striking point of difference we heard, in relation to the countries’ responses to the pandemic, was that in Kenya, a COVID-19 test attracts a cost of 10,000 Kenyan shillings, or almost $130 AUD. This is especially shocking considering 10,000 shillings represents the average monthly wage for most Kenyans”(Abdul Kassem, Parade College H08).

“Conversing with the excellent people from Nairobi is an experience that I look forward to repeating. Comparing the effects Covid has had in Kenya to its effects in Australia and sharing the similarities and differences of Kenyan and Australian culture was an outstanding beginning to this friendship. Their unity and togetherness were very inspiring, and I believe we both have much to learn from each other” (Emmanuel Lymbouris, T08).

Throughout the meeting we discussed “tunnel vision”- how sometimes we can forget our place in the world and only be focused on ourselves and where we want to go. Just like us in Melbourne, Kibera is also facing the full extent of Covid-19, however, it’s almost as if we are living in alternate worlds.

To elaborate, the Kenyan government have recommended social distancing and handwashing just like here in Melbourne, but the problem people in Kibera face is how can you wash your hands without access to water? How can you practice social distancing when five people live in a 4×2 metre room?

A Covid test in Kiberia costs around $130 Australian dollars, to put that into perspective $130 Australian dollars has the capacity to feed a family for around a month. Many families are being forced to decide between staying home and simply starving, or to look for work and risk contracting Covid-19.

I saw an image on social media the other day that compared Covid-19 to a wave and how we are all facing the same wave, the only difference, some of us are in speed boats while some are left without a paddle. For school aged children in Kibera schools are closed, the same for us, but in Kibera many families lack the resources to be able to learn remotely and as a result are simply not getting an education.

The impact of Covid throughout Melbourne and Kibera has had dramatic effects on the social connectedness of everyone, in particular young people. Sport has ceased, reducing the avenues for individuals to come together and feel a sense of belonging and connection to the world. This is leaving many individuals feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

After the meeting one question was arising in my mind- how can we help other boats get over the wave with us? Sometimes those boats can be closer to home than we realise.

“I think now more than ever it is important to check on your mates and to share a laugh and open up that “tunnel vison,” enabling us to remember we aren’t alone and that we are all facing these abnormal times together” (Adam Crick, Parade College T05).

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