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Virus: Please spare a thought for the next generation

By X.N. Iraki | July 5th 2020

Children welcome visitors to their school. [Courtesy]

Schools were open during the Mau Mau, several elders have confirmed that to me. After the 1982 August 1 coup d’état, schools were open in September, the following term as usual.

Universities closed for a year, leading to double intake in 1985 to clear the backlog.

The current closure of schools is unprecedented.

When the other pandemic of 1918 came ashore, Kenya was just becoming a nation with only a few schools.

The population was low and transport system poor, making the spread of the virus hard.

I did not realise what the current pandemic means to the younger generation until I met some parents with candidates in Form Four. The anxiety was evident - from the voice to facial expressions.

While so much focus is on Covid-19 cases, we need to spare a thought for the next generation, the young children caught in the crossfires between the coronavirus and scientists, between politicians and coronavirus.

The last time our children got into the news was for all the bad reasons, pregnancy.

Every county is reporting the number of pregnant girls and parading them to the media.

That data needs independent verification. We are quick to blame pornography, but the real culprit is idleness.

Schools keep children busy until they are adults and can take responsibility for their actions. With Covid-19 and the burden of students at home, parents in future are unlikely to complain over school fees.

Let us be blunt, we have let the next generation down. Covid-19 has made it plain.

Our social-economic systems are not designed for children. It is evident there are no playgrounds for children, no swimming pools, no parks.

The children are holed in their crowded homes in an informal settlement or vertical ghettos such as Githurai and related suburbs.

Don’t say they will not keep social distance even if these amenities were there.

Ever wondered what these kids do all day?  What sort of entertainment beyond TV or online shows including pornography do they have?

Their other entertainment is obvious, relationships and possibly sex ending up in pregnancy. In all the pregnancy cases reported, I have not heard of rape. With modernism, parents have slowly lost control of their children to their peers and an anonymous society. Changes in law and death of traditions have given children freedom before they can handle it.

All around the city and its suburbs, high rise buildings are competing for light like trees in the tropical rain forests.

Beyond roads, we leave no space for the occupants of these houses, they even have no balconies. By the way, why do Kenyans rarely sit on their balconies or outside?

Bottled up in their homes, the kids have to look for valves, just like a pressure cooker.

Even affluent suburbs such as Karen, Runda or Muthaiga have no space for children, excluding golf courses.

Seen the crowds in Karura forest? Why can’t we have more Karuras? Will some portions of the big plantations being chopped into plots in Kiambu become Karuras?

In other countries, such spaces are inbuilt into the design of the estates. But I am sure you know what happens to such open spaces if they are spared. There are parks and open spaces in America’s ghettos, I know that because I lived in one and visited Harlem.

I have always wondered why we are so selective in copying the American or British political system, with senators and governors, not their way of life that takes care of you when you are not working with parks and other amenities.

The paradox of our thinking is leaving no open spaces for children, yet about 40 per cent of Kenyans are 14 years or younger. How many schools have no playfields?

The rural areas are fast catching up with urban areas. Beyond school playgrounds, the rural areas leave no space where one can sit and relax.

The only place one can relax is in a hotel, consuming. Other places of leisure are charged. Kenyans are charged to see a famous waterfall in Laikipia.

I was charged nothing to visit Niagara Falls! Free leisure places are neglected or insecure.

Beyond Machakos people’s park, how many counties have bothered to build such amusement or amenities?

Yet with or without Covid-19, human beings need space to relax and exhale.

We are not really indoor animals like roaches.  For the rich and affluent, that’s easy. You can sit in a hotel terrace, in a golf club, or any members club, or in your backyards or front yard.

Staying indoors

But for the vast majority, including our children, that is a luxury, even staying indoors is hard with overcrowding.

Covid-19 has brought out that hard reality. Yet, we needed social distancing even without Covid-19. Why are bungalows and maisonettes more popular than apartments? 

We hope the reality of not social distancing when it was possible will not be paid with lives. Think of it, denied time in school, unhappy at home, our children, the next generation is suffering for our failures to factor them in our plans.

Think of children who don’t know when they will return to school, sit for exams, get jobs and live the rest of their lives.

We need more time for them, as parents, leaders and human beings. Put yourself in the uncertainty of these children, victims of a tiny virus they don’t understand. I hope this virus will be quickly incorporated into the curriculum.

Beyond Covid-19, let us plan for the expected and unexpected and beyond our lifetime.

Let us spare a thought for the next generation, we brought them forth. We must take responsibility for their wellbeing, physical and emotional.

If we don’t, we risk making their problem inter-generational. Did I hear there are 14 million students in Kenya?

That is 28 per cent of the population.

Now you know why we need more time and more facilities for them -and incorporation of this group into our social-economic systems.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi


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