INTERVIEW | HOW OUR AFRICAN ARTISANS HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY COVID-19

April 29, 2020

INTERVIEW | HOW OUR AFRICAN ARTISANS HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY COVID-19

We’re now 5 weeks into our lockdown and the UK is adjusting very well. People seem to be enjoying the time off, slowing down the pace. Nipping to the supermarket has been replaced with planned weekly trips. We have proved the anecdote, that we’re a ‘nation of queuers’, as we patiently wait 2m apart for our turn to enter a shop. On the whole we have followed the advice ‘Stay Home, Save Lives, Save the NHS’.

This period has helped me to slow down, usually rushing around, things can be quite manic. The luxury of living in a comfortable two bedroom house with a small garden, taps full of running water and fridge full of food, has made me think a lot about what lockdown is like in other countries like Africa, where we do most of our production.  

What challenges do people face social distancing in slums? When your shack is two meters square and shares a thin makeshift wall with the shack next door. Where raw sewage runs past your front door and there is no electricity or running water.  How are people managing in rural areas where people have space, water and air but the closest hospital is 3 hours away? Some rural areas have imposed curfews, guarded by military force, making it almost impossible to tend to your crops, key for the survival of subsistence farmers.

I was concerned about our artisans, so decided to ask a few of them in Africa how they are coping with the current situation.  It turns out that we are not exempt from their thoughts, with messages returned saying that they’re thinking about us and worried that the UK infection rate is so high.

Read on for statements, direct from some of our resourceful artisans and colleagues, facing Covid-19 in Africa.

Pictured: Jemimah with her two daughters Tina and Debrah

Jemimah Katuta

“I am Jemimah and I live with my two daughters Tina and Debrah. I am a single mother and a disabled Woman’s rights activist in Mombasa, Kenya.

In Kenya the first case was reported on 13th March 2020, a 27-year-old girl who had travelled from the US to Kenya via London. The first death was reported on 27th March 2020, and so far 270 cases have been reported with 14 deaths, including a child. 

The whole country is on lockdown with a curfew from 7pm - 5am, which the government is implementing through tough security measures. It is a challenge to social distance in very overcrowded urban environments, businesses have been broken into and goods stolen during the curfew.  Informal traders who have little shops and roadside shacks are losing their livelihoods. If people are unable to make money for food and rent then crime will increase.

Mombasa, being a tourist city, is a Covid-19 hotspot. It has a large amount of people living in densely populated slums.  Many here are suffering because they are casual labourers who live a hand to mouth existence. Families are sleeping hungry, as leaving to seek food gets them into trouble with authorities for not complying with Lockdown rules. Some people are saying its better to die of Covid-19 than hunger.

People are afraid to cough in public, anyone with even a headache is worried they are affected. Others don’t believe the virus exists and are spreading rumours. Each county in Kenya now has a Covid-19 centre but there are few ventilators, PPE or medical supplies.

Food prices have increased despite a warning from the government to sellers, and many who can afford it are hoarding food. Communities are trying to help each other though they have little to give. The government says it is collecting food from well-wishers and businesses to distribute but we have not received any food.

Working very closely with disabled people, I see how they are affected by Covid-19. Mombasa has a high majority of disabled persons due to the many Schools, Institutions and Disability Centres in which people can attend there. The majority live in slums. There is a challenge communicating vital information to the visually impaired because it is not in brail and there are no sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired.

The government has placed hand washing basins around but some are not accessible for wheelchair users. Many families of persons with disabilities are sleeping hungry because they depend on casual work which has disappeared because of lockdown. People with severe disabilities are suffering because they cannot pay for their personal aid to assist them. Children with epilepsy and those who use medication daily have no money to buy medicine. The situation is terrible.”

Together with friends, Jemimah, has been trying to secure food to support those in need.

“We thank and truly appreciate our friends for supporting few families who were sleeping hungry. We are not a registered charity so we rely upon generous people trusting that we will distribute the food fairly. We are appealing for well wishers who would like to support persons with disabilities.”

If you would like to donate directly to Jemimah, to help provide food for those struggling with disabilities, you can contact Bee or Jemimah Kutata via email bee@artisansandadventurers.com or jkutata@yahoo.com. All donations will support a child, a woman or a family with disabilities, through the present challenges.

Pictured: Agana with his wonderful basket creations

Agana Ayezeriba

“I am Agana Ayezeriba and I live in the northern part of Ghana, in a town call Bolgatanga also known as the weaving capital. I live with my extended family whom I support. I started school very late so it wasn't easy to make a living. At 15 I learnt how to weave to support my family. I left school due to the lack of funds and made weaving my main source of income. 

Ghana first recorded Covid-19 on the 11th March 2020 with two cases. Today we have a total of 636 confirm cases and 8 deaths. 

The lockdowns that started in the big cities of Accra and Kumasi and are now in the far corners where we live. We can move around but Bolga market is closed and so are schools.  Funerals and religious gatherings are banned and these are very important in our culture.

The main challenge is how to feed our families. Lockdown means there is no transport so weavers cannot move around to get necessities. The situation is leading us to poverty. The government is not providing food or protective equipment like masks or taking steps in testing people to stop the spread.

Most people are taking the situation seriously, but a few refuse. Health workers, Chiefs, and Communities Leaders are encouraging people to stay home, wash hands and use a mask when coughing or sneezing.

Business has slowed down and women and children are at risk as they cannot earn money to feed themselves and their families. There are no customers for the baskets. We rely on selling our crafts to other traders from big cities and other countries in West Africa but nobody is coming to buy. With schools closed, the children do not learn, many families are illiterate and cannot teach their children. People do not have access to internet to help with education.

We are thankful that some customers like Artisans and Adventurers are still ordering from us as it is bringing in a little money which we desperately need.”

To help support Agana and his family, you can purchase any of our Ghanaian woven baskets, so that we can continue to place orders with him.

Pictured: Agana's wife, Gloria and their two children Atogyinu and Richmond.

Ruth Nasimbe

“I am Ruth Nasimbe. I am the basket co-ordinator in Uganda for Artisans & Adventurers, weaver and a single mother of two children and two dependants. I live in a rural village near the town of Fort Portal. I met Bee on her trip in late 2019, we mainly work with a few small weaving groups, and Topista, a weaver who lives with her two children and is severely affected by HIV. Topista is very unwell and I am helping look after her children.

Fort Portal is famous in this part of Uganda as it contains the main access point to see Gorillas and Chimps. However, many of the four-wheel-drives carrying tourists never know of the poverty surrounding them. They come to see these magnificent primates, take their pictures and head home.  They do support the local weaving communities by buying baskets from the lodges they stay in. These lodges offer employment. I fear Covid-19 will devastate the fragile tourist industry.

I first heard of Coronavirus from Museven, the president of Uganda. He made an announcement on 18th March 2020 on the radio. He announced that the world was hit by a deadly disease which is spreading very fast.

As a creative art maker, I earn a small living and love to help those who have less than me. Covid-19 has affected my home, income and these dependants. We used to have three meals a day but now we have one, some people have none. I used to take food to those in need three days a week but now I only do it once every fortnight, with much less than before also dependent on transport.

The first lockdown was for 14 days with curfew in order to study the situation and stop the spread of Covid-19. So far we have been spared the worst from the disease in Fort Portal but the loss of income is the biggest problem. The Government has not come in to save us. I am now using the small savings I have to look after my family and a few very needy people. It is the ordinary people that are trying to help those who are most in need, the poor are helping the poor.

Although we are not suffering so much from the disease, hospitals will not accept other sick people anymore. Mothers who have delivered babies are discharged the very next day. There is no transport and people have to walk even if they are sick. Some patients with HIV cannot get the medication or food they need to survive. If they do get the medication and  take it on an empty stomach it causes severe headache, dizziness and vomiting.

With no transport, Community Health Visitors are not working and the elderly and very sick risk dying in their homes if they are very remote. People are too scared to visit them to help them.

Another major problem is that the male youth in my community are mad with alcohol from morning to night, chanting “we must get Covid-19 babies” and behaving very damagingly. They can't work and we now have two cases of teenage pregnancies.

Motorcycle riders who earned their living transporting people cannot feed their families and have to steal from farmers. The Police and the Army have been called in to keep the peace, but they have been known to shoot people out of line and don’t have much sympathy for the situation.”  

Pictured: Topista with our latest basket design

As you can see the picture our partners paint is not a pretty one. We are doing what we can by sending money to help with food. We are paying our weavers to continue weaving and hope to sell our baskets to continue to support them. 

Our main issue currently is getting stock into the UK. We rely on air cargo and at the moment nothing is moving. Due to the lockdown restrictions in Africa none of our orders are leaving.  We have big orders waiting in Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda that are ready and waiting but we are not sure when and how they will get to us.

Please check out our Instagram stories where we will be selling a beautiful basket made by Topista decorated with our latest cats and houses design. Topista will receive the full amount from the sale of this basket to help buy her HIV anti-retrovirals.

We thank you for taking the time to read our latest piece. Together we can help ease the situation for our weavers and help them cope with what is around the corner.

Written By Bee Friedmann




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