AIDS in Kenya

On Friday afternoon, we visited Mathare, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, to meet with the women of Grassroots Women Operating Together in Sisterhood-Kenya. Part of an international movement of grassroots women, GROOTS-Kenya is determined to bring the issues faced by grassroots women to international attention. Just this past summer, GROOTS-Kenya was honored as a finalist for the Red Ribbon Award during the International Conference on AIDS. The award celebrates the most outstanding and least recognized actors in the effort to stop AIDS -- the communities who are finding innovative and effective ways to address HIV/AIDS and secure livelihoods around the world.

We spoke to the dynamic founder and coordinator of GROOTS-Kenya, Esther Mwaura-Muiru, about the group's efforts to ensure that organizations like the World Bank consult with grassroots when women's programs are created to address AIDS in their communities. We accompanied one of the dedicated women, Jane Waithera, trained by GROOTS to be a home healthcare worker, to the home of a woman that she cares for. The home health care workers are on the front lines of caring for women and families with AIDS -- bringing them food, taking care of the children when the parents are ailing, and later after they pass away.

Just 30 years old, Cecilia is infected with AIDS. We hesitantly entered the tiny corrugated tin shack and took hold of her hand to wish her well. Jane sat next to Cecilia on the bed and helped her to sit up a little straighter. I will never forget the tenderness of Jane's hand upon Cecilia's heart. Jane wore a bright yellow t-shirt that read "STOP AIDS - Keep the Promise," and indeed the women of GROOTS are determined to end the scourge of AIDS.

In addition to visiting Cecilia, we went to a small studio where young women were working on knitting machines that they have learned to use. The knitting program was started by GROOTS caregivers who saw that young orphans had no skills with which to earn money and take care of themselves as they grow older. The young girls proudly demonstrated their knitting technique and showed us the sweaters and school uniforms they knit and sell. They are an inspiration.


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