There have been countless unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses and doctors working on the frontlines, essential service workers ensuring that we could still get the necessities, parents working from home trying to balance childcare and a full-time job, distilleries and clothing manufacturers using their production lines to make hand sanitizer and PPE- the list is seemingly endless.
Over the last several months we have seen, in many cases, the ugly side of humanity, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has also demonstrated how remarkably innovative and altruistic humans can be in a moment of crisis.
Sometimes, these heroes come in shapes and sizes that you don’t expect- like a child. In Kenya, a nine-year-old boy is receiving recognition from the government for building his own handwashing sink to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in his community.
A Hand Washing Machine
Stephen Wamukota lives in a village in Western Kenya. His father had brought home some wood with the intention of building a window frame, but upon returning home from work one day he found that his son had instead used it to build his own hand washing machine .
The young boy got the idea to build the special sink after he saw a news report on television explaining different ways to avoid contracting the deadly virus. Using just a bucket, a few pieces of wood, and some basic tools, Stephen built the sink with a mechanism that is controlled by foot pedals at the base so you can wash your hands without actually touching the sink itself .
His father James is very impressed with his young son’s innovation and initiative.
“The first time the president announced Covid-19 infection in our country, it was said that everyone should wash their hands regularly to prevent the virus. My son told me that time that he had come up with a structure to help make hand washing easier,” he said .
Like Father Like Son
Mr. Wamukota repairs electronic goods for a living, and says that his son has always expressed interest in learning his father’s trade. Although the concept and initial machine was all Stephen’s doing, his father helped him tighten it up a bit.
“I saw that what he built wasn’t stable so I helped him make some adjustments. I didn’t want it to fall apart,” he said .
Mr. Wamukota says that in Kenya’s school curriculum, children are taught how to assemble and construct things, which is how the young boy knew the basics of putting such a machine together.
Recognition for a Job Well Done
So far, there are two thousand reported cases in Kenya, and thankfully none in Stephen’s village. His father, however, is concerned that it could come to their community. Stephen, for his part, is ahead of the game.
“I now have two machines and I want to make more,” he said .
In recognition for his efforts, Stephen was the youngest out of 68 Kenyans to receive the Presidential Order of Service, Uzalendo (Patriotic) Award last month. He stood among notable people like Patrick Amoth, acting director general for Kenya’s Ministry of Health, and Wachira Waruru, managing director of Royal Media Service, to receive his award .
A Bright Future
In addition to his prestigious award, Wycliffe Wangamati, the governor of Bungoma County where Wamukota lives, has promised Stephen that he would receive a scholarship for him to complete his primary and secondary education.
The details of the scholarship, however, are unclear as of yet since Kenya’s schools have remained closed due to the pandemic.
“We are waiting for school to open to contact him about his promise. He (the governor) told me that once school opens, he will give him a scholarship to a school that can match his talents,” Mr. Wamukota said .
Stephen says that he wants to be an engineer one day, and his father is hopeful that this presidential award will open many doors for him.
“He is always saying he wants to build factories and become an engineer,” he said. “I hope he does, that he becomes a great person.” 
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