SEATTLE — As of 2016, there were 1.6 million individuals living with HIV in Kenya, totaling 5.4 percent of the entire population. Although there is a 64 percent rate of antiretroviral treatment among adults and children, there are still approximately 36,000 AIDS-related deaths each year.
HIV can be contracted through one of four vectors: sexual contact, blood contact (such as via transfusions or needle sharing), mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy or childbirth and through breastfeeding. Expecting and new mothers are at high risk of passing the virus to their children.
With Kenya having the 12th highest prevalence of HIV in the world, prevention programs are crucial. Some of the programs currently being implemented are condom distribution programs, education about safe sex and HIV in schools, voluntary medical male circumcision and harm reduction (such needle and syringe exchange programs and opioid substitution therapy).
Power Women Group Goes Beyond the Disease to Help the Whole Person
Apart from these medical and educational efforts, a group that is aiming to build awareness and support, as well as self-sufficiency and independence, is the Power Women Group (PWG), based in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi. PWG was founded by 15 HIV-positive women who have come together to tackle HIV stigmas as well as Kenya’s poverty.
Its mission includes training women on the skills needed to live an independent life, eliminating stereotypes around HIV and creating a community of support for one another. This is done by teaching women to make and sell crafts and build careers in areas like child care and salons. PWG also sells its crafts in a shop in Kibera to illustrate the lives that can be built and sustained even if one is living with HIV. Power Women Group has created a community of understanding, support and outreach.
PWG’s Impact Visible in the Kibera Community
Brandi Taylor, a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, recently returned from studying abroad in Nairobi for three weeks. She told The Borgen Project, “The Power Woman Group has an amazing impact on the community by doing all that they can to help others even before helping themselves. This included the kindness and compassion they gave us while we were there.”
Taylor listed some of the specific impacts that Power Women Group has had on the community, such as providing hair and beauty classes for women who can no longer go to school so that they can earn an income. PWG provides daycare services for the mothers who take advantage of the free salon services as well as the larger Kibera community. The jewelry and tailoring shop that Power Woman Group operates helps raise funds for these services as well as for emergency health costs for HIV-positive women in the community.
According to Taylor, “The Power Woman Group teaches [young women]tools that can provide the young woman with a means of income. They are not just feeding the young woman fish, but are teaching them how to fish. They not only do for themselves, but they teach others how to help themselves as well. The knowledge they use to sustain themselves, they are not selfish with. They give their knowledge and wisdom out freely.”
– Jessica Ramtahal
Photo: Brandi Taylor