April 30, 2012
Imagine this: you live in a country with 60% unemployment…you constantly suffer from malaria, TB, and skin infections…the people around you won’t even talk to you, much less hire you. How would you provide for yourself, or support your family? That’s the situation that most of our 1000+ clients were facing when they started the CFA program and that hundreds of thousands of other HIV+ Kenyans are waking up to daily. The good news is that these people CAN support themselves, and we see them doing it every day! I firmly believe that helping people out of poverty goes hand-in-hand with caring for their physical condition and spiritual needs, and I’ve observed that self-sufficiency arrives in 3 distinct ways:
1. Strength of Body and Mind
Many of our clients have the skills to work a trade or the land to farm, but they can’t take advantage of these opportunities because they are physically weak, many times to the point of being confined to their bed for months on end. For these people, our workers serve as the link to hospitals and clinics, making sure they get the right medication and then teaching how and why to take the drugs. We help them to eat nutritious food and live in a sanitary way that prevents infections, and soon those who were bedridden are ready to work.
Other clients have lost their emotional strength and simply given up. They think that with HIV they are destined to die tomorrow, and they see no reason to work, take medicine, or farm their land. When our staff sit with them and teach them that they can live 15, 20, 25 years – that they can see their children grow up – they take advantage of every opportunity and turn their lives around.
From clients in each of these situations, we hear a constant refrain: “I was so down, but now I am strong!”
2. New Skills to Apply
After their health has stabilized, some of our clients still don’t have a trade, land to farm, or any other source of income. This is when the 18 empowerment seminars they experience can revolutionize their chances. They learn skills like soap-making, cooking, and charcoal-making, and these simple trainings lead to an income-generating activity that puts them on the first rung of the ladder out of poverty.
3. Wise Strategy
For those clients who have a skill or who start running a small business, we often see situations where a person is working but their situation just isn’t improving. That’s where this third route to self-sufficiency becomes so crucial. Our staff and outside trainers spend time teaching the clients about business strategy, from product choices to marketing, and financial skills, like saving and budgeting. We also connect them with sources of financing and credit. Together, understanding and resources allow them to take their ventures to the next level. Soon, they not only have the income to simply fend off starvation, but they are saving enough to send their kids to secondary school or move their families into better housing.
In each of these three situations, people don’t need much to get started. I am continually amazed with how Kenyans facing poverty will strive and push and dig deep to do everything they possibly can to improve their situation. More than anything, everyone wants to provide education and a future for their children, and they will go to amazing lengths for this. Often, all we need to do is pick them up and get them to take the first step, then they are off and running!