Giving hope to people living with HIV/AIDS amidst COVID-19
By Caleb Mwamisi, AJAN
A few minutes after 9:00 AM on Friday, 22 May 2020, at the conclusion of a #WalkwithaVulnerableFamily exercise at Upendo OVC buildings, the AJAN team joins Evelyn Nyakoa on a brief journey to her house. Her gratitude is palpable as she saunters ahead of us. Her determination and hope are commendable because, whenever she utters a statement, it is punctuated by some joy. She is gracious enough to invite us to her home within the Kangemi neighborhood.
While Evelyn is among many who have been beneficiaries of the Uzima project, her story is not unique as she is positively living with the HIV virus. Through the facilitation of Nafisa Ayuka, a social worker at Upendo OVC, Evelyn has graciously agreed to usher us into her mind and life, if only for a few hours. A mother of four, two of her children reside with a relative, whom God granted enough grace and love to appreciate and help relieve Evelyn’s burden.
I am joined by Fr. Elphege Quenum SJ, Director AJAN and Pascalia Sergon, the capacity building officer AJAN. As we approach her home, we notice the dense population within the wooden structures roofed with iron sheets. A young girl gleefully runs to meet us and offers to help Evelyn carry her load comprising of maize flour, sugar, salt, a bar of soap and rice. As Evelyn cheerfully ushers us into a packed single room, we notice another child lying on a makeshift bed who she informs us is her last-born who is yet to wake up. However, startled by our footsteps and muttering, four-year-old, Precious sits up and her mother quickly offers her a mask. She timidly puts it on with the help of some of us.
“My own brothers chased me away from my father’s land when I went back there following the passing on of my husband”, she begins to narrate. For the sake of her children, whom the relatives also threatened, she harnessed innate hope to forge ahead. As we fervently grant her our attention, we gather that she suffered the double tragedy of being crudely ostracized by not only her late husband’s family, but also her own blood. Her husband had two wives with the first one inheriting all the land to her detriment.
In 2013, the year of her husband’s death, she would move from up country to the slums of Nairobi to try and fend for her family. From the onset, she eked a living by undertaking domestic chores such as laundry, gardening, and other spadework. Yet, it is in the slums that St. Joseph the worker parish reached out to her and “wiped away my tears” as puts it. She heartily adds, “They undertook to help us with the little they could manage through their program Uzima. We occasionally have received help in the form of foodstuffs, facilitation of medication -ARVs, and have been offered training where we have been obtaining skills such as greenhouse farming and nutritional support”. Evelyn now helps Uzima OVC reach out to other widows and in turn helps the community to access and utilize benefits of the project.
As Evelyn mentions nutrition, I recall some two packets which were part of the portion given to her and fellow beneficiaries earlier in the day: fortified flour and milk. “I am grateful to the St. Joseph the Worker Parish and Jesuits and I pray for more support because my neighbors are also endangered in this period of COVID-19. People who are living with HIV are struggling the most”, she reveals. A moving day for us ends as we bid Evelyn and her beautiful children goodbye.
“The Coronavirus has made life immensely difficult for people living with HIV and their livelihoods are seriously jeopardized. They need a balanced diet consistently to sustain and enhance their immunity, yet the economic difficulty created by the Coronavirus makes this pursuit a pipe dream. By extension, the people in the slums are experiencing far-reaching repercussions of the economic turmoil with rising cost of living and unbridled inflation. Many are neglected with insufficient assistance reaching them”, says Fr. Elphege when the AJAN team intensely engages in a review of our encounter with Evelyn.
#WalkwithaVulnerableFamily is a project of the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar offered through its social ministries and centers. Kangemi has been identified as a ‘hotspot’ for COVID19 by the government of Kenya, with mass testing currently ongoing in the slums.
1. Looking ahead to a brighter friday, as preparation of food items happens at St. Aloysius Gonzaga #walkwithavulnerablefamily
2. Families urged to stay home as #walkwithavulnerablefamily project is dispensed at upendo ovc- Kangemi, Nairobi