From Kawangware to Xi’an: Reflections On World AIDS Day

By Caitlin Stanton

In 2004 in Kawangware, Kenya, I met a woman, Mrs. Njeri, and her ten-year old daughter Emily. Mrs. Njeri had AIDS and Emily had dropped out of school to care for her mother. A community organization supported by the Global Fund for Women, Bridgeway Trust, had reached out to the struggling family. They helped Mrs. Njeri access medical treatment, housing, and counseling. They helped her to launch a small used-clothing stall, and enrolled Emily in a special counseling program they ran for kids whose parents have AIDS. When I met Mrs. Njeri that year, she was soft-spoken, and seemed overwhelmed by the challenges she faced, but thankful for the support she’d found at Bridgeway.

Unlike the vast majority of aid agencies operating in Nairobi, which base their headquarters in a “safe” part of the city or safely ensconced in a gated UN compound, Bridgeway Trust bases its one and only office directly in Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s poorest slums. This act of solidarity with the local community also promotes the leadership of community members within the organization and helps build trust­ – essential to Bridgeway’s successful work with HIV+ individuals.

In 2007, I was fortunate to visit Bridgeway again. I was amazed yet again to have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Njeri. I was amazed, could this be the same woman? Now a respected leader in her community, she spoke passionately and confidently about the changes she had made in her life. She now runs a small self-help group for other HIV+ women and is a vocal advocate to end discrimination against those living with AIDS. She is a tailor and creates beautiful school uniforms for children affected by AIDS to wear to school. Her daughter Emily was enrolled in secondary school and was doing great. However, AIDS had taken its toll and as her spirit had grown and strengthened, her body had become quite frail. She told me that she knew she might not have so many years left, but that she wanted to live them to the fullest and to do all she could for her community in that time.

On November 17th of this year, Funders Concerned About AIDS released its report US Philanthropic Support to Address HIV/AIDS in 2008. According to this report, the Global Fund for Women ranks among the top 10 supporters of work on HIV/AIDS internationally.

This same report highlights GFW’s long-time partnership with the Legal Aid Division of the Shaanxi Women's Federation, a women-led initiative in Xi’an, China. Like Bridgeway, the hallmarks of Shaanxi’s success are in its solidarity and respect for the communities in which it works. After their own research predicted an explosion in both migration patterns and HIV infection rates in Shaanxi province, the Division listened to the community and reprioritized their efforts on HIV/AIDS awareness. This led them to undertake a range of HIV/AIDS prevention programs for migrant workers, including an innovative program to train labor recruiters, often the last “point of contact” for women from rural Shaanxi province migrating to factory jobs in China’s cities, to provide information to the women on safe sex and the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

December 1st is World AIDS Day. On this day, we remember the approximately 2 million women, men, and children that lose their lives to AIDS each year and honor the courageous work being done around the world by groups like Bridgeway and the Legal Aid Division of the Shaanxi Women’s Federation, and by HIV positive individuals themselves, to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, research new treatments, advocate for access to healthcare, and support and care for those impacted by the disease.

Caitlin Stanton is part of the development team at the Global Fund for Women.


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