Its not often than SFH is sought out by a group. We are a young organization and have been committed to small scale,but quality work. Well, word spread. And you can only imagine our surprise when we were sought out by a group of community members who have been struggling to support over 100 AIDS orphans by themselves, rather then seeking out any number of organizations working in this country! This group, comprised of about 50 caregivers, extended family members of these children (mainly grandparents) and a couple who has been organizing their efforts – they have been meeting regularly, pooling together their limited resources and their immeasurable passion to ensure that these children will not be forgotten or neglected.
Grace and I went to visit the group in early April to to an assessment of the group’s needs, the community context and to have an open discussion with them as a whole, as to what we can do to further their vision for sustainable, independent and community driven change that will provide a more stable support network for these kids. We drove from Nairobi to Machakos and were picked up by the group founder, a priest named Fr. Joseph. HE drove us down very bumpy broken dirt roads, greeting everyone we met along the way until we reached the meeting area. We were greeted by his wife, the teacher and facilitator for all the kids group counseling and activities, and were taken into a simple hall where the caregivers sat waiting for us.
I looked around the room and saw grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles. Men and women who have lost their loved ones to an illness so stigmatized in this region that they cannot even openly discuss its impact on their lives. We began to get to know one another and explore their day to day challenges, dreams and vision for their group. And in all my travels around Africa working with other organizations and running development programs I have never met a group like this. They were very candid about their poverty and their limitations due to age, but they were not looking for someone to support them. They were not asking for money or sponsorship, which is the expected chain of discussion, if you have been in this field you can understand. No. They wanted to be heard. And we listed. One grandmother, caring for 18 orphans, the grandchildren of 4 of her own children who have all died, as well their spouses. Another caring for 6, 3 her own, 3 her dead sister’s with no one else to care for them. The numbers added up more and more the ages ranged infancy to late adolescence. They told us about thier household’s, the land they cultivate and rely upon. The dangers of drought for their livelihood. They told us about their small scale businesses, their trades and skills: tailors, rope-weavers, shoe-makers, vegetable sellers – and how at such a small and limited scale they committed as a group to pool together these skills and resources for the greater good of the group. They have survived to date on small scale revolving fund activities and have never thought for a minute that retirement, age or drought would be a barrier for them to earn an income to support the children they all see as theirs – all 100 of them!
Our meeting continued for a number of hours, and then we discussed on a much more intimate level with their leadership what is their vision for development. Its amazing how in a country like Kenya, SATURATED TO THE BRIM with development workers, relief agency, receiving billions and billions in multi-lateral funding, there is not a single project, program or group working in Ukambani, where these families reside. And still they came to us. Knowing that we are partners. We support home-grown, grass-root change and development that is owned by the people who seek to grow. They came to us, knowing that we would kick-start a process that would continue and multiply and we are glad to embark on the journey.
SFH has agreed, through operation supply hope to support the capacity development of this community group to establish itself and better fulfill their own mission. We will provide technical support to their child-counseling efforts, HIV education and prevention work and primarily, to establish a larger scale income generating project that is communally managed and owned by the caregivers. Their proposal to date: Chicken farming. the JSP component of SFH will also work to ensure that the children will be in school, for those whose caregivers cannot manage to support all, and we will ensure that they have what they need to be in school: uniforms, shoes, stationary items etc.
This is just the start but we are hopeful and excited to partner with such a driven, passionate, hardworking and hopeful community. We launched our activities in April by funding their kids-day where all students received a school kit equipped with writing books,mathematics kits and writing utensils. We furnished this kids club with arts and crafts, balls and other sports equipments and the curriculum to ensure that well rounded psychosocial support will be provided through recreation, creative expression, life skills education and counseling. Children affected by HIV/AIDS are often subjected to trauma as a result of lost parents, being suffled around from house to house and being stigmatized by the community as being related to an illness seen as a curse. These kids clubs will be a safe space for them to grow, thrive and feel self-assured and accepted. SFH funds also covered medical treatment for the most ill and a meal for all who attended.
To the people of Ukambani who are committed to remembering the forgotten children… We stand beside and are inspired by your hope.