Charity Ngilu, the incumbent governor for Kitui County is a leader who has won admiration from international media outlets over her proactive approach in cushioning Kenyans from COVID-19.
Sometime last month, she made a bold move in transforming a rather idle textile factory into a surgical mask production hub producing 30, 000 masks every day. One would be forgiven to say that Ngilu saw the reality on the ground of this ravaging disease and the need to keep her fellow countrymen safe kicked in.
Incidentally, her daughter and son-in-law were among the first batch of 10 Kenyans to test positive for coronavirus after returning from Spain. She could no longer wait for shipments to be made from China.
“Let’s not wait and wonder. We import everything and produce nothing, despite having all the resources at our disposal,” she remarked at the time just before the factory went full-blown in production.
The factory now has a workforce of 400 people. Interestingly, 80 percent of them are women who resorted to embroidery to keep them busy and earn income since they did not proceed with their education after primary school or dropped out while in primary school.
Mbuvi Mbathi, the factory manager told the Washington Post that “It was a lot of challenge to bring them from the village to where they are today.” Each worker produces 1, 250 masks in an hour.
The embroiders work in eight-hour shifts in 24 hours to ensure production continues. The factory has a housing facility for all of them within its precincts to keep them safe from contracting the virus while commuting.
In a month, they get a salary of close to Sh20, 000 which is relatively high in Kitui, a county ranked high on poverty index in Kenya.
One of the embroiders, 24-year-old Josephine Wambua recounts that though the pandemic is scary, she is happy to be part of something so noble.
“I never thought I would be part of something that has the potential of saving millions from dying,” she says.
The Kitui County boss holds that over-reliance of imports from China will continue pushing Kenyans to poverty.