The particularly energetic Pentecostal church we visited was in the same area as the Lunenele Self Help Group, who care for around 35 orphans. While I got busy wiping kids noses, washing sticky fingers (I know, I lack boundaries in every country I visit) and retelling the “In the Jungle One Day” story,” (if that story is not reciting itself in your head, you grew up in Australia in the 1990s), the chairman of the group began speaking. It was at about this time that Snow (yes, her real name), a two year old orphan who was becoming my new best friend, fell asleep on my knee, and I realised that these were HIV/AIDS orphans.

Picture1

This little boy was one of the orphans of Lunanele. He was too shy to tell me his name – but I remember Shannon, Will and I discussing how sad it was that this little boy he was “the sick kid” was being ostracised within the group – no one would play with him, or wash his face.

A LITTLE ON HIV/AIDS

In countries where AIDS has reached a crisis point, such as the African states of Kenya and South Africa, the disease has had serious effects on all areas of the nation including its economic and social development, national security and its ability to play a role in international security forces.[1] We in the western world however tend to hear about African conflicts, and African poverty, rather than AIDS – which even if cured today will still have killed more people than any other conflict in any other place on earth – EVER. AIDS, kills more people than terrorism, than wars, than king-hit punches in Kings Cross, than car accidents, child birth…. AIDS is dangerous, and in many ways silent. In July 2000, President Mbeki of South Africa gave a speech for the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban,[2] stating that he believed that ‘the world’s biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe, including South Africa, is extreme poverty’.[3] This perception of HIV-AIDS as a disease that comes from poverty, is a common view held by many African leaders and scholars of Africa. The view does not however claim that people living in impoverished conditions are the only people infected by and suffering from the virus, nor does it claim that improved economic conditions would allow all the damage caused by HIV/AIDS to be mended.[4] As even the non-poor people in the badly effected countries, who are infected will in time, however find their resources are ebbed away by their infection and according to one scholar, Desmond, there is increasing evidence in urban communities of an emerging class of those recently impoverished by the epidemic.[5] Rather this view argues that a reduction of impoverished conditions, which are rampant in so many areas of the African continent, including improvements to the education and public health care systems may help stem the spread of the virus.[6]

AIDS impacts upon not just the health of individuals but also upon the health of nations. The reality facing Africa is that the suffering and death resulting from the virus is severely impinging on Africa’s ability to become a member of the first or even the second worlds.[7] The HIV/AIDS virus is eroding Africa’s human resources, which means that countries will loose out economically, the Kenyan economy for example could be left one-sixth smaller than it would be without a high HIV prevalence by the year 2015.[8]

Therefore, if the spread of the virus is stemmed, the affected nations stand a chance of rebuilding their economies, continuing with social development becoming more stable countries, which pose less threat to international security, and are less likely to be insecure at a nation level.[9]

….back to Lunenele….

The HIV/AIDS Virus played a devastating role in the community of Lunenele in the Western Province of Kenya, leaving in this small village 39 orphans, 7 widows and 5 widowers. All of whom would be left to starve while attempting to fend for themselves if it were not for the initiative of the community at large. In the year 2000 as a response to the huge number of deaths caused by the virus, the community decided something must be done to ensure the survival of the children, and to build for them a sustainable future. It was that year that the community set up the Lunenele Self Help Group which they designed to be an income generating project able to support the widows and orphans.

The projects included the establishment of a Posho (Maize) Mill, in which they grind the maize grown on their land by the widowers as a part of the agricultural programs they are also running.

The Mill was built in 2004 with the aid of a 150,000 Kenyan Shilling (approximately $300AU – this was the conversion in 2007… exchange rates have changed since I am sure) grant from the National AIDS Control Council. During the groups early years, they supported themselves through farming maize and vegetables also by keeping dairy cattle. Unfortunately the cattle were killed off by disease.

This initiative, more so than any of the others I had encountered thus far in Kenya appeared to be the most organised and most successful. The Chairman Michael Ngongokusiti attributes this success to the board of 25 people (5 men, 20 women) who meet every month to discuss, make and check up on the group’s policies and practices. The committee, he explained has subcommittees each of which is to attend to certain areas, a business committee, the report writing committee and the accounts committee which ensures that every cent is account for. The Lunenele Self Help Group’s books are well kept to ensure that there is no chance of a dishonest person manipulating the system, as all involved have on goal in mind – helping the orphans, widows, widowers and therefore allowing for a stable, secure and safe community.

In addition to the provision of food and shelter for the orphans the Lunenele Self Help Groups strives to provide the orphans with school uniforms. In Kenya primary school education is free, and by law, children are not required to wear uniforms. Most parents however, are not aware of this fact, and most school principals place pressure on families and communities to ensure children where the uniforms, which means that children without uniforms are discriminated against and marginalised. This pushes many people away from the education system.

In 2006 the Lunenele Self Help Group produced 1530kg of maize and 630kg of beans to be sold for profits and shared by the orphans and widows. I asked the chairman if that was enough food, and did it produce enough profits? He simply gestured around showing me the number of orphans suffering from malnutrition and kwashiorkor or famine oedema, before answering ‘It was all that we could produce.’

The Lunenele Posho Mill has been largely successful, but it could potentially be more so, with a more certain future, if they were able to improve some of their facilities. The mill has a packed mud floor which will not necessarily survive the coming rainy season, and so the board wish to raise enough funds to cement the floor to help ensure its survival. The members also hope that they will in time be able to open a refreshment stand/tea-room on site, a business which would provide employment and profits for the community.

When it came time to for us to leave the Posho Mill I was forced to part with my new best friend, Snow. It struck me as terrifically unfair that even when a whole community gives everything it has to support the children, these orphans still go to bed hungry and sick.

[1] Hawa, R. S., “Africa: Poverty and the AIDS virus” Third World Network: 2001 electronic version, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/poverty.htm cited August 30, 2007

[2] O’Connor, Eileen and Hunter-Gualt, Charlayne, “Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference” CNN News online version http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/AIDS/07/10/aids.economics/index.html July 10, 2000 Cited August 30, 2007

[3] Hawa, R. S., 2001

[4] O’Connor, Eileen and Hunter-Gualt, Charlayne, “Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference Hundreds walk out on Mbeki at AIDS conference” CNN News online version http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/AIDS/07/10/aids.economics/index.html July 10, 2000 Cited August 30, 2007

[5] Cohen, Desmond, “Poverty and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa “ HIV and Development Programme Issues Paper No. 27 electonic version http://www.undp.org/hiv/publications/issues/english/issue27e.html cited  October  21st 2006

[6]Hawa, R. S., 2001

[7] Amoako, K. Y., Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa on The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Growth and Poverty Reduction in Africa in his address to the Development Studies Centre Dublin, Ireland 03 February 2004 electronic transcript http://www.uneca.org/eca_resources/Speeches/amoako/2004/020304speech_amoako.htm cited September 5th 2007

[8] Ibid

[9] Hunter, S., Who Cares? AIDS in Africa, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 p.22

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