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Pankaj Shah On His Humanitarian Covid-19 Response

Pankaj Shah On His Humanitarian Covid-19 Response










On 21st March at 2am, Pankaj Shah shared a Facebook post vowing to provide food, drinking water and milk for 10 people who earn daily wages to help them survive every day and urged his friends to adopt at least one daily worker in need. Barely a fortnight later, the initiative dubbed “Save A Fellow Kenyan” has received overwhelming support from Kenyans and internationally.

How did “Save A Fellow Kenyan” happen?

My daughter studies in New York and when Covid-19 started rapidly spreading in the state, I decided to move her to a friend’s house in South Jersey. On the night of 21st March when she was on the two-hour bus ride, it was about midnight in Kenya and I was up praying for her journey as bus trips kept getting cancelled. When I was praying, I thought about Kenyans who depend on daily earnings and are out of work as a result of the crisis. That inspired me to start this initiative and I got up and wrote my first Facebook post about it. I started with my own personal donation of Kshs 300,000 which I used to buy 100 hampers of Kshs 3,000 each.

What goes into the hampers?

On the advice of a balanced meal plan from a friend at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) each hamper has maize and wheat flour, rice, sugar, beans, “njahi,” “dengu,” chickpeas, longlife milk, tea leaves, salt, cooking fat/oil and bread. We also include fresh produce including “nduma,” “ngwaci,” “matoke,” cabbage, butternut, potatoes, carrots and courgettes. We are purchasing these daily from Wakulima Market, in turn helping farmers move their produce as they are no longer exporting. Also included is an all-purpose bar soap. There are two types of hampers: one that can feed a family of four for 10 days and another one with bigger quantities which can go for one month. Our packhouse is at Montesorri Learning Centre on Grevillia Grove where we’re inviting people to come join Team Pankaj, our team of volunteers in this initiative.

We are targeting the slum areas of Kibra, Mathare, Korogocho, Kariobangi, Kawangware and others in Nairobi whose bulk population are casual labourers without a fallback plan in this economic climate.

Are you complying with the restrictions issued by the government and health experts to control the spread of coronavirus?

We are encouraging social distancing but it’s not always possible in the slums. We are doing the best we can by sensitising them on it and encouraging hygiene. Recently at Mother Theresa Children’s Home, we boiled thousands of eggs and distributed them to children playing nearby, first requiring them to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water and explaining the importance of social distancing and maintaining cleanliness before distributing to them.

How long do you plan on running “Save A Fellow Kenyan?”

For as long as the effects of Covid-19 keep being felt by low-income earners.

What would you tell The Asian Weekly readers during this trying time?

The pandemic is going to take a toll on our economy; take a toll on people’s peace of mind and strain relationships because of getting into each other’s nerves as families are stuck together at home. It’s going to result in joblessness which will strain people’s health leaving them vulnerable to contracting the virus. But the good thing is that only 2% of those catching the virus are going to die. What I know about Kenyans is that we come together in time of crisis, “tunajitolea kila mara.” I request people to come out, dig deep into their pockets, give with open hearts and support me or other similar initiatives during this time. Because I tell you, the poor will not die of the virus but of hunger. If you’re in a position to help, please do so because it counts.

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