The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives of millions worldwide, and the East African community has not been immune to this threat. As of June 14, the region reports more than 7,000 cases.
When COVID-19 cases started to rise in Tanzania, my country, I became very concerned about my relatives, all with severe health problems that make them vulnerable to the virus.
In the six years I have been studying in the United States, I have only been able to travel once a year to visit my parents and my grandfather who still live in Mwanza, Tanzania. To help ensure that they and other Tanzanians remain healthy and have access to information about the virus, I assembled a group that translated essential information about the virus into Kiswahili, the most widely spoken language in Tanzania.
The information was published as a series of fact sheets on the COVID-19 Health Literacy project, and our efforts were recognized by Tanzanian media such as VijanaFM, which published the fact sheets on its website.
But he continued to feel that he was not reaching enough people, especially those living in rural areas with limited access and literacy. So, seeing the global call to creatives from the United Nations, I decided to get out of my element and assembled a team to create a song that would give information about COVID-19.
Music is a large part of East African culture and has long been used to mediate conflict and strengthen community cohesion in rural areas. Radio is also still a very popular medium in East African countries and I thought that a song about COVID-19 could capture audiences in Tanzania on a larger scale.
Thus, after many quickly written lyrics and late night recordings, Tanzanians around the world created “Corona Tutaishinda” (“We will overcome the coronavirus”).
For this task, I recruited Tanzanian friends who live in other countries and who, like me, decided to pursue their higher education abroad. First, I contacted a friend in Dubai who loves to make music and asked him to create short music tracks for two verses and a choir. Then I contacted two Tanzanians living in Boston and asked them to write powerful lyrics. I recruited a Tanzanian artist in Canada to create the album art.
Recording the song was the most complicated. My only singing experience was in high school theater and in the Yale Russian Choir at university. I've never rapped or recorded myself singing before. So I called an expert, buddy who has his own podcast. After a short lesson on how to use Garageband and a professional microphone, I decided. Not even an outdated computer that broke down in the middle of the recording could stop my eagerness to make this song for my people.
“Corona Tutaishinda” not only teaches its listeners about COVID-19, it also offers a message of hope and solidarity. It has been playing on the MegaFM radio station in Arusha since April and can be downloaded. Proceeds from online purchases go to fund personal protective equipment for frontline health workers in Tanzania.
Personal protective equipment for health workers
Tens of thousands of Tanzanians who emigrated from their native country live in the United States and now consider their home in the United States. Several Tanzanians living abroad, myself included, have come together to raise money to buy personal protective equipment for health workers in Tanzania.
The initial target was 25,000, which we were able to easily exceed in June, and we reached over $ 30,000.
The current plan is to acquire personal protective equipment in Tanzania, to support the local economy. We used regional medical officers in the Dar es Salaam and Pwani regions to distribute the kits, who know which hospitals in their respective regions need the most protective equipment. Demonstrating and ensuring accountability is a priority, so the group recruited field experts in Tanzania to confirm that teams are distributed to those who need them most.
Our slogan umoja wetu, ndio nguvu yetu– “our unity is our strength” – talks about our emotional connection to Tanzania. Although we are physically separated from our homeland, our commitment to help Tanzania in its fight against COVID-19 is strong.
Help mitigate food insecurity in Kenya
According to the World Bank, COVID-19 will lead some 60 million people to extreme poverty. This, combined with regional floods, is likely to create food insecurity for millions of people who are already poor.
Hanif Gilani, a Kenyan internal medicine resident at Griffin Hospital in Connecticut, was not prepared to expect a severe food shortage to hit his country.
Gilani partnered with Kenyan Ashiana Jivraj, a Harvard dental student, to start a nonprofit, Towa Kitu Kidogo, or Give Something Small. It's a colloquial expression used in Kenya when asking for bribes, but Gilani and Jivraj decided to use it to demonstrate how small donations in the right hands can make a big impact if given to those who need them most. To demonstrate that they do so responsibly, they detail all donations and expenses online in a public spreadsheet.
So far, the organization has raised more than $ 15,000 and spent more than $ 10,000 on initiatives such as feeding its first 150 people at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Learning and Referral Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya.
More recently, the NGO partnered with the Sikh community in Kisumu to feed more than 2,000 people homebound by the quarantine, and in some cases in communities that have been affected by floods. Food deliveries were made many times after traversing half a meter of water to flood-affected villages.
Through networks of friends, local family organizations and local partners, they helped Towa Kitu Kidogo identify different groups of people facing malnutrition and hunger to meet their needs.
As the African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together ”.