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Category — HIV/AIDS

IPD Camp HIV/AIDS Seminar

Rose telling her storyThrough talking to a few people in my first few days in the camp, I became aware of the prevalence of HIV and AIDS within the small community. One of the health workers who is also an IDP from the camp through some basic survey work estimated the infection rate at as high as 42% among the camp adults, she also said there were several young girls who’d been raped during the violence who’d also been infected. Building upon my previous months experience working with the Tumaini HIV/AIDS Project in the Lenana slum area of Nairobi, and my beliefs that education is the key I decided to hold an HIV seminar in camp.

Me presenting, while being translated by Mr JohnWorking with Hope For Life, a local NGO I arranged to have testing conducted on the day, so after people had learned about the risks and treatment etc, they would be compelled to get tested, especially if it’s right there. When I was in Nairobi for the Eat So They Can video conference I met with the Tumaini group and discussed bringing one of them to the camp, to share their story during the seminar in camp. Rose the strongest speaker and Sophia the program leader were to come up early the morning of the event. I also brought the education materials, posters and handouts we’d created for the Tumaini seminar in Nairobi to use during the day.

Posters hanging on the fenceThe seminar, like other similar events was to be hosted under a large tree in a field nearby the camp. Mr John, the health committee chairman went around reminding people of the event, and slowly they began to wander over. I put up posters along a barbed wire fence near the tree. Hope for life sent out a testing professional who came from the Molo district hospital, which is the area many of the camps 4000+ residents were displaced from, his name was Joseph and he agreed to talk about the testing portion of the program before setting up to begin his work in the clinic. Once the Tumaini ladies had arrived from Nairobi, we began.

Leading by example, getting tested

The two different tests used on the dayMr John welcomed us and all those in the audience before we introduced ourselves and one of the women from the audience lead the group in a prayer. I then spoke to the ever expanding audience as John translated what I said. Speaking through a translator is a strange experience and takes some getting used to, I was constantly concerned about getting my message out, without it being too long for John to remember it all and convey the same message in Swahili for the audience. The group sat very divided, with women on my left and a slightly smaller group of men sitting on my right, gradually each side grew as more and more people came to listen.

Lining up to be testedI covered all the major topics we’d discussed in the previous seminar: HIV in Kenya, which talks a lot about the statistics, and about the stigma and some HIV Myths which are common here. What is HIV and How it Spreads, I discussed what HIV stands for, that it is the virus that causes AIDS and how it is and isn’t transmitted, and talking about the concurrency issue in Africa, where many people have more than one regular sexual partner, and how it greatly increases the rate of transmission. Testing and Treatment, explaining that testing is a simple, quick and free service in Kenya, and that you need to be bested every 3 months to constantly know your status, and what the treatment options are and how with ARVs provided free by the Kenyan government, many people live long and healthy lives. Then Prevention which is really the key, how condoms are the safest way to protest themselves and their partners and re-iterating the concurrency theme by showing a series of diagrams.

One of the mothers getting testedBefore inviting Rose, the star of the show to speak, Joseph spoke more about the testing and how it’s so important to know your status and make educated decisions about how to act. When Rose got up to speak she immediately stole the show, speaking in the native tongue, she was able to capture the attention of the group with ease, sharing her story. How seventeen years earlier, her and her husband found out they were both HIV positive, the husband killed himself shortly after, leaving Rose alone to raise the children. She lived for twelve years without any ARV treatment, now with the daily pills she is strong and healthy although without work and living in a slum, Rose’s own children are grown up but she looks after two little girls who were orphaned when their mother and father both diet of AIDS related illness two years ago. Now as part of the Tumaini group in Nairobi, she encourages others to get tested and know their status, welcoming them into the group if they need it. Although Rose spoke in Swahili and most of it I didn’t understand, judging from the way she engaged the audience and even invoked laughter, I’m sure they enjoyed the talk, and hope the message was heard.

Getting the blood for testingOnce the seminar was over, we headed over to the clinic where Joseph was waiting with the testing kits. I decided to practice what I preach and lead by example being the first to get tested. When I’d previously been tested throughout my adult life, it had always been done in a lab, as part of a series of other tests so I was interested to see how the instant testing worked. Joseph pricked the end of my finger with a clean disposable spike, similar to a blood sugar test he squeezed the deep red blood from the tip, wiping away to make sure it was clean, then sucked it into a small tube. He then placed drops of blood on each of the two tests he was using on the day, then adding drops of a special solution to activate the test. The tests would then produce a line in two sections, one to show that the test worked and one to show the result. The testing process including results took less than ten minutes. As I left the clinic, there was already a line of people waiting to know their status. At the end of the day 52 of the about 90 attendees was tested, only one of them was positive, and they already knew. It doesn’t really fit with the Kenyan estimated averages, or the suggestions I’d heard coming into the camp, but that’s 52 more people who know their status, and can make an educated decision about how they act.

November 15, 2009   Comments Off

Community HIV Semimar

The Tumaini Seminar Team

As part of our efforts to provide HIV/AIDS education to the community of Lenana we held a seminar at the school, one Saturday in September. The seminar was intended to focus on awareness, answer questions and dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the issue in Kenya, prevention and encourage people to get tested and know their status. We spend quite a bit of time preparing for the day, we designed posters highlighting key HIV facts which can be used at future seminars and when volunteers talk to schools in the area. We also prepared a hand out for the attendees to take home and hopefully share with other people, it talked about HIV in Kenya, treatment, prevention and testing.
Setting up
The day went really well. Teachers from the school setup tents in the courtyard so the audience wasn’t too hot and we provided tea and light snacks to lure them in. About 60 odd people turned up which we were very happy with as not too much promotion had been done, most of them were women as we expected, but 15 or so men did turn up, and were very involved in the conversations, and encouraging of what we were doing, and of people to take more responsibility within the community.
Kathryn presenting while Sophia translates.
We got some tough questions and had some heated discussions. It seems sex is an embarrassing issue for both parents and teachers to speak to the kids about, so no one really talks to them about it, and the children miss out on important information, stuff that in Kenya, could really save their lives. So we spoke about the importance to communication and how it can help break down the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS in Kenya. During the section about prevention we had one of the Tumaini ladies get up and give a quick demonstration of a female condom which the ladies found particularly interesting, she explained how
it works and also that if you put it in 30mins before sex the men (particularly drunk ones) don’t even notice it. Other questions like what happens when a baby is born HIV positive and then is tested again a year later and is negative or how come my first born is HIV positive and my second isn’t? Thankfully as a group we were able to answer all of these.

Attentive audience

One of the topics I spoke about was the issue of concurrency, where people have multiple concurrent sexual relationships for an extended period of time. This creates a network of people, and when they have unprotected sex (which most people do) then HIV can spread rapidly throughout the network, infecting even faithful partners. Concurrency is one of the biggest reasons why HIV is such a large issue in this part of the world, it’s like everyone thinks their partner will be faithful, and HIV is someone else’s problem. With Free condoms, free testing and free treatment, Kenya has all the tools to fight HIV, but the rate is still rising.

Rose giving female condom demonstration Dorris telling her story

Probably the bit of the day which had the most impact for the audience was when each of the Tumaini ladies got up and told their stories. How they felt when they first knew their status, how their families reacted (many have been ostracized) and how they live their life now and are healthy. The women we’re able to open up and really get the message home in Swahili, rather than everything we said being translated from English.

To close out the day we reminded people of the importance of getting tested and being responsible, that HIV is not just a problem for poor people, that the community must work together to help in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Kenya.

October 6, 2009   2 Comments

Eat So They Can

Children being fed in school

Remember when you were a kid and your parents used to tell you that there are starving kids in Africa if you wouldn’t finish your dinner? Having seen it for first hand in Kenya I can tell you that they were right. This year on the 17th and 18th of October, to coincide with world food day, the GVN Foundation is putting together a global dinner party called Eat So They Can. Where people host dinners for their friends and families to raise money to stamp out hunger around the world.

Every day, 25,000 people die because of hunger; 18,000 of them are children. The World has produced more then enough food to feed itself since the 1960′s, yet around the world, over 850 million people are chronically hungry.

Picture 7

Living in Kenya for the past month, I’ve been lucky to have been well fed by my host family, or able to afford food when I need it, but I’ve seen many people who are not so lucky. The drought in Kenya has put food prices up and food security is a big issue here. At the school where the HIV project is based, the children get fed a hot meal every day, but for some it’s the only meal they get, as there families can’t afford the high prices.

I won’t be hosting an event this year since I’m in Africa, but I know people who are hosting events around the world and so will be speaking to those people at the event over webcam using Skype, speaking about my experience here and what I’ve seen in the programs I’ve been part of.

Get Involved

You can get involved too, here are a couple of ways.

  1. Sign up to host a dinner party for your friends and raise money.
  2. Find out about existing events and help promote and attend them.
  3. Follow and Retweet @EatSoTheyCan on Twitter.
  4. Join the Eat So They Can Facebook group
  5. Spread the word with the Eat So They Can trailer below.

If you are hosting an event, and are interesting in talking with me via webcam during the dinner, contact me via the comments section below, or message @HelpMeHelpKenya on Twitter and we will set it up.

September 30, 2009   1 Comment

Changing it up

Photo by http://www.ght.org.uk/news/category/UKAfter two straight days of the director not showing up for the program, we became a little disheartened, having traveled half way across the world to be part of this project, we felt our time could certainly be put to better use than just sitting and reading our books, while the ladies made the jewelry. Time in Kenya seems more theoretical than factual. So we decided to change it up. It’s all well and good to assist these few ladies who know their status and are open about it, but we both feel that prevention is the key, and more could be done to educate the children and others in the community about HIV and AIDS, hopefully persuading them to go get tested and use protection if and when they have sex.

Kathryn (the other volunteer) has a friend in South Africa who works with community HIV education and he offered the materials he has created for us to use a base. Coupled with the South African materials and some research into the situation in Kenya, we spent a few days creating education materials to be used with students in the local schools and seminars that Tumaini puts on when they have volunteers. We have also created a series of laminated posters featuring key points about HIV in Kenya which will be used at both seminars and talks to the students. Hopefully the materials we create will become the basis of future community HIV education, where subsequent volunteers can use them to inform more and more people about the issue, what it is, and what it isn’t.

The trial run of the materials was used with the Ngando primary school during Guidance and counseling with both boys and girls aged 12 and up. Some of the children knew a lot about HIV, like how it can be transmitted, what it stands for etc, but we also got to dispel some of myths which occur in the Kenya, like that HIV is a hex someone has put on you, or that it only affects poor people. We also spoke about sex, and how it’s very important to wait till you’re ready etc. The class concluded with a condom demonstration, including how to put it on (using a banana) and the basics of how it works. It’s pretty embarrassing telling 50 kids some as young as 12 how it all works, but it’s a small price to pay if it means they go and use a condom when they start having sex, it could save their lives.

September 23, 2009   No Comments

A Walk in the Slums

Lenana slums

The first few days on the HIV/AIDS program went well, meeting with the organisers, setting up the weekly schedule and buying beading supplies was simple enough. Since the program started during the last week of school holidays, the first Monday was when the real stuff started. As scheduled we began the day with home visits, walking through the slums of Lenana and beyond to visit the ladies in their homes and see how they lived. Unfortunately (as we now know is all too common) there was a miss communication and no-one was home. After a few hours walking through the slums in the heat only to find the ladies not home, we did visit the home of one of the HIV+ ladies, Rose who was walking around with us.

Rose and the two AIDS orphans she looks after.

Rose looks after two AIDS orphans who’s mother died of the AIDS related symptoms earlier this year. They live in a small 10′ x 10′ slum shack, where they cook, eat, sleep and bath. It was shocking for me to see people living in such hard conditions, but inspiring to see how Rose, who has been living with HIV for 17 years, and the two girls can live and remain so positive, given what they have gone through. Unfortunately Rose’ house was the only one we could see that day.

Kids running to class before guidance and counseling

Later on the Monday, I taught a class of boys ages 10 – 17 for Guidance and Counseling, not having really been in a classroom for the better part of a decade, it was a little nerve racking, having 50 sets of eyes staring back at me. It was more of a introductory get to know you session, where I found out each students name, age, siblings, parents etc. As I guess could be expected, it was hard to get a handle on that many boys of different ages being stuffed into one tiny (normally they have 30) room. Next time we might try older kids so we can talk about more mature issues, and mix the boys and girls. It has become clear to me that there are major gender issues within this community, and getting boys and girls to communicate more openly about things like sex, will begin to break down some of the issues.

More photos after the jump [Read more →]

September 19, 2009   No Comments

First days of the HIV/AIDS program

HIV positive mother and daughter.

After a couple of days of orientation and getting to know the other volunteers starting at the same time as us, Thursday was the first day with the Tumaini community HIV/AIDS program. The program was started by Sophia Balongo who is the head mistress of the Ngando primary school in Lenana. In 2004 Sophia noticed that some of the parents from the school were becoming sick and dieing from what seemed to be HIV/AIDS like symptoms and so in order to help those in need, assists the members of the program (all currently women) so they can earn a little money and support themselves. This is basically done through making and selling beaded jewelry, these are generally sold overseas by other volunteers as they can fetch a much higher price and hence get more money for the program. One of the volunteers also helped the group get a license to sell charcoal, so they buy large sacks of charcoal, and then break it up into smaller bags and sell it to people within the slums. Most of the cooking is done inside the small shacks with either charcoal of kerosene both is toxic for the lungs and respiratory issues are very common.
Anna beadiing neclaces for saleThe work we will generally be doing is broken out by the days of the week, some days we do home visits where we walk around and visit the ladies in their homes and see how they are living and if they need anything. Other days are Material Making, where they ladies come and make the necklaces and bracelets in a room near the school, or group and individual counseling. On Monday afternoons we also teach a class in the school for Guidance and Counseling. During the class we are suppose to help the kids understand the dangers of sex and HIV, but we’re not supposed to discuss condoms, as they believe it would encourage the kids to have sex.

More photos after the break

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September 10, 2009   2 Comments

Welcome to Lenana

Woman carrying baby in Lenana

After one day in the suburbs I moved out to Lenana where I will be staying with Martha and her family and working in the slum area with the HIV/AIDS program. It’s a small apartment building surrounded by the slum, a large gate and electric fence separate the two. The community seems very self sufficient, farm animals such as cows, goats, sheep and chickens wandering around producing eggs, milk and of course meat for the families of Lenana. The walk in from the main road passes by a little butchers hut with a animals strung from the rafters, customers choose which section they want and the butcher carves it up. There are little “stalls” setup on the side of the road, with people cooking and selling food, some of it looks simple like grilled corn, others crazy black sausage which is probably good, but looks scary. Other more established stores in little huts act as the bodegas or convenience stores of the slum. They sell anything from pre-paid topup cards, sodas (20KSH/$0.25 for a Coke), charcoal etc. There’s a small bar/shack where you can have a beer and watch the European soccer matches
The butcher of LenanaThere are dozens of the cutest little kids running around, rolling car tires, or pretend dogs they made out of wire. Some of the girls have afro braids with coloured beads, but they all say the same thing when they see me, a Mzungu they shout “How are you… How are you…” I don’t even think they know what it means, just that you say it when you see a white (non-African) person. They all seem very happy running around, I don’t think their parents told them not to stare, since that’s all they seem to do, but I don’t mind since I’m staring right back at them.

Lenana kids

More photos after the break.

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September 1, 2009   1 Comment