When Kyriacos, 32, moved to the Netherlands in 2012 to pursue his postgraduate studies in Climate Physics at the University of Utrecht, he had no idea that seven years later he would be remotely running a feeding initiative for poor families living in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, whose financial situation has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis.
Born and raised in a Nicosia suburb, he first became closely connected with the people of Kibera in June of 2019 when he travelled there from the Netherlands for volunteer teaching at a primary school, living with a local family for the duration of his stay.
While teaching in Kibera, he managed to build a small library for his school and supply its pupils with much-needed stationery, both initiatives executed with manual help from locals and with funding raised online through a campaign Kyriacos coordinated.
In-Cyprus spoke with Kyriacos about his current project “Donate A Box to Kenyan Families during Covid-19” that aims to provide essential supplies to 115 families comprising 220 unemployed parents and around 300 children.
According to the project’s fundraising page, a box of supplies worth €26 can cover all the basic needs and hygiene of a 5-member family for a period of three weeks, and donations can range from a few euros to the box’s full value or more.
Each box contains 5kg of rice, 10kg of wheat flour, 10kg of maize flour, 3L of cooking oil, 3kg of beans and 3 bars of soap. The list, Kyriacos said, was put together in consultation with families to identify their most important needs and consists of the ingredients for their everyday Kenyan dishes. Sufficient quantities of soap are also provided to make sure the families are shielded against Covid-19.
J: I understand that you have been living in the Netherlands for the past 7 years. What is your connection to Kenya? Why there?
K: I went to Kenya in June 2019 to teach as a volunteer in a primary school; a dream of mine since I was a child. There, I was living with a local family for a month and a strong connection was immediately established with the Kenyans. Beyond teaching, I worked with the local community to transform the school’s infrastructure and classes’ performance, while at the same time supporting students and their families, all through personal fundraising on social media.
In Kenya I saw a country so vibrant, so full of energy, colours and life. It was the smiles of the Kenyans and their kindness, their passion for unstoppable singing and dancing despite their harsh daily reality, their energy and excitement towards simple things that created a connection that would follow me everywhere. I witnessed a world of unlimited potential, yet limited opportunities. It made me see in front of my own eyes that despite all its wonders, Kenya is a place where the greatest, daily struggles are the western world’s easiest, daily habits. For example, access to education, nutrition or clean water supply. And that is when I realized: a big, positive impact could be achieved on improving daily life on a local level in Kenya, only with small and simple gestures of help from the West.
And that was the concept on which this project was built.
J: How did you put this initiative together?
K: With the coronavirus crisis escalating, the latest worst-case model by the Imperial College London predicted around 3.3 million deaths in Africa from Covid-19. That is equivalent to 1800% more people dying in Africa than the global, confirmed coronavirus deaths up to this day.
In addition to that, I was informed by the locals that when the virus crisis began, a lot of people were fired from their jobs without even receiving their last salary. Especially those from the poorest areas of Kibera, they wouldn’t be able to support their families anymore after their existing food supplies at home run out, leaving them fully exposed to hunger and the virus itself. Kibera is the biggest slum in Africa and is a hot spot where the virus can go out of control with devastating effects for the spread of the pandemic.
That’s when the idea came up.
In collaboration with the local community specialists that I worked with in 2019, we set up a project where someone could adopt a family living in the slums of Kibera, outside Nairobi, for 3 weeks by buying them a box full of food supplies and sufficient soap to provide a shield against covid-19. A fundraiser was created on gofundme.com, which is one of the most trusted and safest personal fundraising websites.
We wanted people to witness every step with their own eyes by seeing donations taking shape into a box and ending up with a family, as if they were doing it themselves in the slums of Kibera. Therefore, constant information and visual updates are posted on social media to show the real daily results and impact of the project.
J: You have set a target of 3,000 euros and you have already received more than 1,000 within only a few days from the launch of the project. Did you expect such a response? Who are your donors?
K: When we set the project goal, we had no idea how the public would react. The pandemic is global and everyone is absorbed into what is happening in their own country. It was risky to aim high, but on the other hand, if goals don’t scare you, they are not big enough. If it fully succeeds, the project has the potential to help up to 115 families or approximately 520 people (60%-70% of whom are children) living in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi.
So far, 36 families received a box and 180 people have been supported. 20% of the donations are from Cyprus, 20% from The Netherlands, 15% from the USA and the remaining 45% from many countries all around the world.
What many people say regarding what made this fundraising different than all the others and convinced them to participate, was summed up nicely by one of our donors
“You often see all these crowdfunding things, but you never see what actually happens with your money. I appreciate that you take us on the journey of what is being bought. And to who it’s all being distributed. Anyone can see the direct results of the project, as pictures of Kenyans receiving the supplies is posted on the websites with their short side story”.
J: What safety measures are taken against Coronavirus in the process of delivering the boxes to recipients?
K: A procedure was created with the local community’s health workers, to make sure supplies reach every recipient without any spread of the virus. Each box is filled with supplies and is only delivered by the experienced staff after a few days have passed so that its interior is virus-free (potential contamination lasts only a few days on surfaces). Upon receiving the box, the family is instructed to leave it for another 2-3 days in a corner of their house, before they start to use it. The health worker also informs the family on every measure they should take to protect themselves from the virus and advises them to stay home for at least 3 weeks, especially now that they have all the supplies they need. He is also the person responsible for taking a photo of the recipient with their supplies, as well as for keeping receipts for every supply bought from the market.
J: On the project’s GoFundMe page you say that a box of supplies costs €26 which covers all basic needs and hygiene of a 5-member Kenyan family for three whole weeks. If I want to donate a part of that amount, say 10 euros, can I do that?
K: People are free to donate any amount they desire. For each 26 euros collected, from one or multiple donations, another family receives another box. We had single donations from 5 to 100 euro, so far. On the website, anyone can see in detail the price of each product within a box and decide any amount they want to donate. Upon donating, the website even allows the donors to make a comment and, if they want to, they can specifically say something about their donation or about the project.
The photographic material was kindly provided by Kyriacos and depicts daily updates published on the project’s platform as boxes get delivered to their recipients.