10 February 2021 - Kenya

Born and raised in Turkana: Miriam is serving her people during COVID-19


Growing up in the town of Lodwar in North-Western Kenya, Miriam Atonia, 41, has been involved in humanitarian projects for the last fifteen years of her life. Miriam has worked with Save the Children among other non-governmental organisations to respond to emergencies in her Turkana community and in the neighbouring country of South Sudan.

Due to the cyclical nature of emergencies in her home district of Turkana, Miriam shares that it was this exposure to emergency responses when she was younger that has shaped her career. She tells us:

“I remember in 1999, I was just fresh from high school when a devastating drought hit our community. We were losing lives and livestock and livelihoods. So, I got drafted by World Vision as a food monitor where my work involved registration of beneficiaries, planning for dispatch and mobilizing the community,” she recalls. Miriam was 20 years old.

Miriam Atonia interacting with children from the community

Miriam with children from the Turkana community.

Turkana County has lagged behind in terms of qualified personnel to offer services to the community due to high levels of illiteracy.  Miriam told us:

“I saw that as an opportunity to close the gap and that is what informed the choice of degree that I went to pursue at university. I did home economics.” Miriam was among the first group of female students from the community to make it to university.

Today, Miriam works at Save the Children and oversees the implementation of education projects as the Early Childhood Development officer for Turkana County.

Miriam Atonia, SC ECD Officer for Turkana County

Miriam Atonia, Save the Children's Early Childhood Development Officer for Turkana County, Kenya.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Kenya, the government introduced measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. It was our field officers, like Miriam, who held the fort. They worked hard to ensure that ongoing projects were not impacted and that our pandemic response was rolled out swiftly and effectively. Our teams have rapidly adapted programmes and work round-the-clock to keep children safe, healthy and learning.

Miriam says “we have also been doing training in a bid to capacity-build the health care workers and community health volunteers.”

When asked how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted children, Miriam says that from her experience, when children are out of school, they not only miss education but they are also likely to go hungry as schools partner with aid agencies to provide children with at least one meal a day. Girls are also likely to go without sanitary products as they are given sanitary towels in school. Miriam explains:

“When schools were closed, that responsibility shifted to the parents who were already struggling. This has forced children to go out to work so that they can supplement the family income, exposing them to child labour.”

Save the Children staff playing with children in the community

Miriam and Save the Children staff get out the skipping rope and play with children in the community.

When it comes to winning the war on Covid-19 there is no doubt that it will take concerted effort from state and non-state actors. For Miriam, the role of donors is of particular importance. In her own words:

“Our systems are overstretched. The support from donors is very important in complementing what the government is doing. Considering that we still have the normal diseases like malaria, TB and HIV which were already burdening our healthcare system, with a new pandemic the country can easily be swept off if we don’t have their support.”

At the moment, many health care workers battling Covid-19 in Kenya are complaining of neglect from the government Some are even threatening to put down their tools. For Miriam, the plight of frontline heath care workers strikes a deeply personal chord as her two sisters are nurses leading the fight on Covid-19.

Miriam tells us that the community health volunteers are the unsung heroes of in the fight against coronavirus. She says: “community health volunteers have played a critical role in creating awareness and ensuring that the messages get to the communities.”

Miriam Atonia sensitizing children from the community about COVID-19

Miriam Atonia educates children about COVID-19.

Find out more about our work in Kenya here.

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