Our first dedicated project in Kenya is located in Embu, a verdant rural heartland of Kenya. This agricultural stronghold just a few hours drive north of Nairobi is an area surrounded by rice fields, tea plantations and sugarcane. It was here that I met with Oswald Malunda, the coordinator for our partnerships with fellow humanitarian charity Hope-HIV, who in turn partner with The Salvation Army to use their premises and facilities. I was expecting to find our one project up and running – so was amazed and delighted to find our funding had spawned not one but four separate ventures, all running together and greatly benefiting all ages of the local community.
Our first project here is the Children’s Clubs, run as a safe, nurturing environment for orphans and vulnerable children (known as OVCs). The children’s work here revolves around play, storytelling and psycho-social work to help release trauma and reach children who have retreated into a protective shell of silence. Gathering in circles for clapping games, dancing and songs, the volunteers are trained to vigilantly look for those who don’t smile, are unwilling to participate in games, appear withdrawn and unhappy. These children are then invited for private counselling, which more often than not reveals more information relating to child abuse and deprivation. One area where we are working quite hard now is the education around child mental health. This is especially important in rural communities where mental health issues are seen as a stigma and affected children may be left chained up for days at a time, where they are especially vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.
The second project we have helped establish here is the training for a committee of volunteers, equipped to lead and take ownership of community projects after our initial set-up assistance. We actively work to make these projects self-sustaining – to train and equip the local community to run their own support groups so that we can leave them fully able to continue without our intervention. Building strong foundations within communities for the future means helping them with their capacity building, governance, income generation from skills training – all alongside the ever-important HIV-Aids education and awareness.
The third project is one that I was especially delighted to learn more about – the Village Savings and Loans groups, which offer economic empowerment through financial security. Here we have provided a trained coordinator for each of the seven groups, each one consisting of around 25 people (mostly women), who use their weekly savings and loans schemes to fund small businesses – as well as welfare. This is especially important for rural communities who have no access to formal banking – and there is no state welfare system or safety net. While I was there, a young woman told me how her house had recently burned down and she lost everything. The VSL group was able to give her a three-month interest-free loan of Ksh5000 (about £30) to enable her to buy the metal to rebuild her roof. She paid this back in installments and it gave her vital, practical help at a time when she most needed it and no other funding was available for her.
The Village Savings and Loans groups are also actively involved in income generating activity and provide loans for entrepreneurs to get small businesses off the ground. For example, an individual who is part of a VSL can easily obtain a small loan to buy a bulk bag of wholesale rice that they can then portion-up and sell on to others in their community. During my visit I witnessed loans being authorized for chickens to increase egg-laying production and for a goat for community milking.
Last, but definitely not least, I was introduced to members of the newly established Leadership Academy. I met Martin, Kelvin and Mercy, who have all benefitted from the Children’s Clubs but have outgrown these and are now being trained in mentoring, so that they can go back into their communities better equipped to become leaders of tomorrow. Following my visit, I was left with a feeling of incredible hope – and a deep appreciation for all that is being achieved by the local teams here to help the disadvantaged in Embu. It’s a wonderful example of good partnerships in action between LiveTwice, HopeHIV and The Salvation Army. I’m now very much looking forward to returning and seeing the next generation grow and govern their own futures.