I spent the past week in the town of Ngong volunteering with the beautiful women of Living Positive Kenya. LPK is a non-profit Community Based Organization that aims to assist women and children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Women who become HIV Positive are often stigmatized, rejected, and disowned by their communities and families. Despite the fact that many of these women contract the virus from their own unfaithful partners, the women are the one who are seen as vile prostitutes. The rejection and isolation they receive at the hands of friends and loved ones can sometimes lead to Depression and self-loathing.
They are left to fend for themselves and somehow provide for their children despite the fact that nobody is willing to hire them out of an irrational fear of becoming infected. They can’t support themselves, and they can’t afford to house or feed their children or send their children to school.
Others simply become too sick and weak to continue working; and with no family to turn to, they may end up living on the streets.
LPK aims to alleviate all of this suffering.
They provide home-based care for women who are severely ill and bedridden. That means food, medical care, psycho-social counselling, and nursing.
Once the women are healthy enough, they join the weekly support group meetings where they share problems and concerns they’re having in a safe and welcoming environment, surrounded and supported by professionals and peers who are enduring the same struggles. They bond and heal as a family through discussions, song, dance, laughter, and prayer.
They also learn about various HIV-related issues, such as the importance of adhering to clear and precise medication instructions. This kind of educational information is of particular importance to new members to the group who are still coming to terms with their recent status and may be frightened, confused, or uninformed about the virus and how it will impact their lives.
Psycho-social counselling also helps them to heal by showing them how to love themselves again. They come to understand that they are not bad people because they are HIV Positive. They realize that their new status is not a death sentence. They learn to forgive those who have rejected them. Basically, all of their negative thoughts are exorcised until all that is left is positive living.
Another crucial element to LPK is the Women Economic Empowerment Program (WEEP). This program provides women with training in various skills such as tailoring, candle-making, cooking, and mosquito net-making. They also learn micro finance and business training. At the end of the program, they receive start up capital to open up a business so that they can put their new skills to use and support their families. The entire program takes 18 months to complete.
The products the women make during the time in WEEP are sold in the LPK gift shop and local outlets. The profits from the sales go right back into the pockets of the women and their families.
Of course, just because a woman graduates from WEEP, that doesn’t mean that they are finished with LPK. No, Living Positive Kenya is very much a tight-knit family. During my time in the office, I saw several of the graduates that I interviewed coming back into the office to speak with the staff. In fact, for some of these women, the friends they make through LPK are all that they’ve got.
Aside from helping the women stand on their own two feet again, Living Positive Kenya also looks after the children of these women through the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program (OVCP). Some of these children are infected themselves, while others are living with a sick and poor mother, or are orphaned and living with an extended family member.
If a mother cannot afford it, LPK works to secure sponsors for these children in order to send them to an Early Childhood Education development centre or a private boarding school, depending on their age. They also provide guidance and counselling to these children.
I have met several amazing and inspiring women, both in and out of the office, during my time here so far. I have listened to the harrowing stories of many graduates who have gone through WEEP and women who have been helped by LPK. The shock and heartbreak never faded or diminished with each new story that I heard, but neither did the joy that I felt with each positive ending. I am grateful that these women were willing to share their stories with me so that I may share them with you. This was a humbling experience I will never forget.
If you would like to help LPK, there are many ways you may do so:
– Donate money, food, clothing, school supplies, furniture, and medicine.
– Sponsor a woman in WEEP or a child in OVCP.
– Buy souvenirs at the gift shop.
– Organize fundraisers for LPK.
– Become a volunteer.
– Like and share their Facebook page and/or these stories of these brilliant women.