Grassroots entities give critical lifeline to fight Covid-19 spread

Wednesday September 30 2020

Grace Adhiambo, a community health worker, teaches children how to wash their hands well in Kibera on March 20, 2020. Grassroots organisations are able to leverage their experience and credibility to drive public health messaging. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG

By Cynthia Onyango
By Graham Wood

Deep in the heart of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu’s informal settlements, staff of a grassroots community organisation move from house to house distributing face masks and food items, comforting distressed community members, and offering a myriad of other direct community services.

Local grassroots organisations have emerged essential participants in the battle against Covid-19.

With volunteers drawn often from the very communities they aim to serve, these organisations have rallied family members, neighbours, friends, and well-wishers in pulling together resources.

Take Grace, for example, a member of the Women Volunteers of Peace in Kisumu County who has worked with her mother to help make homemade face masks for the vulnerable communities she serves in the Manyatta and Nyalenda slums of Kisumu. To date, Grace has distributed hundreds of face masks to vulnerable households including children, street vendors, people with disabilities, Boda Boda operators, and the elderly.

In Uthiru, a low-income peri-urban neighbourhood to the West of Nairobi, community volunteers identify vulnerable households, and deliver food rations, while linking poor households with individuals who can offer financial support to meet essential services. .

In Mombasa, Sauti ya Wanawake wa Pwani, a local organisation, is collaborating with the County Government of Mombasa to maintain a ‘situation room’ dedicated to tracking and supporting survivors of Gender-Based Violence.


Unlike many organisations, whose staff are mostly working from the comfort of their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, local grassroots community organisations are operating on the frontlines with community-led responses to the pandemic.

Despite limited resources, these community rooted organisations have sprung into action, in a variety of ways to support vulnerable women, men, children, and youth in coping with the devastating health and socio-economic impacts of Covid-19.

The Aga Khan Development Network views civil society as a force that binds public and private activity in a common purpose.

We recognise the central role these local organisations play in the design and implementation of community initiatives, and we work closely with them in strengthening their capacity for delivering services and ensuring that they continue to have a sustainable impact.

In our Covid-19 Response plan, Aga Khan Foundation has initiated local resource mobilisation efforts, with a focus on three key areas of intervention: slowing and stopping transmission and spread; providing optimised care for all patients; and minimising impact on communities, the vulnerable, social services and economic activity.

With increasing cases in Kenya, AKF recognises that grassroots organisations will become critical lifelines in supporting the delivery of healthcare and other essential services by the government. Grassroots organisations are also able to leverage their experience and credibility to drive public health messaging to populations that may be sceptical of government communication.

They help forge bonds of solidarity and common purpose between and among communities and in their actions, play a crucial role in sustaining collective action while holding government institutions to higher levels of accountability.

As international organisations, we need to step up our efforts to both support emerging local initiatives and amplify local civil society voices in pandemic response efforts. Grassroots organisations are the glue that holds communities together.

With Covid-19, we need their voice, their expertise, their influence, and their extensive presence more than ever before.

Cynthia Onyango is the regional technical advisor, Civil Society at Aga Khan Foundation while Graham Wood is the East Africa Regional chief executive officer.