The Power of Groups

February 15, 2016

“For the next nine months, we will walk with you”, Bosco, our regional coordinator for Nairobi East, always tells this to clients beginning their nine month journey with CARE for AIDS. I think it’s a beautiful description of our program. For nine months, we - the center staff, the administrative staff, and our donors - walk with 80 HIV+ parents at each center. For nine months we come alongside them to encourage them, counsel them, love them, and equip them with the skills they need to manage their disease and live positively. At the end of nine months, our walk with them ends, and we expect them to continue their walk on their own, without depending on the program.

Generally, our program is effective and successfully empowers the clients, and we see them graduate the program with hope for their future and for their children’s future. We often share stories on our blog and social media pages of transformation and success for individual clients. Each one of these stories is special, encouraging, and representative of thousands of stories of other clients who are experiencing similar change and progress in their lives. While these stories of individual success are wonderful, they do not provide a complete picture of our program and the lasting impact it is having on individual lives. That’s because those individual stories of change are not happening in a vacuum- they are happening in the context of the community in which those individuals exist. That seems to go without saying, but I want to bring it up to point out how we intentionally place our individual clients in small groups which we intend to exist as sources of encouragement and empowerment for them as they continue their lives after the program. It’s kind of our exit strategy.

 With that in mind, I would like to mix things up a little and share a story, not of a client but of a small group. Here is a picture of them: 

Don’t they look happy? They are, and it’s mostly because of each other. Let me tell you a little bit about this group:

They have named the group “Mwangaza”, meaning “light”. The group graduated from the CARE for AIDS program at Deliverance Church Gachie in February, 2015- exactly one year ago. Now, a year later, the group has been meeting twice a month, saving money together, going into business together, and inviting other people to join their group. Here is a brief snap-shot of the impact this group is having:

  • In their first meeting, the group pooled resources and made ten liters of liquid detergent. They divided up the detergent and everyone went selling. At their next meeting, they used the profits to make forty liters of detergent! They have only been increasing in profits and business ventures since then.
  • Francis, a group member, says he never saved anything - “not even one small coin” - in his life before this group taught him how to save. 
  • Jane says the group is the only place she feels free to talk about her struggles. She finds so much joy from the other group members that she goes home and sees her own joy spread in her home and her family.
  • Veronica, the group treasurer, works at the local hospital, and she has invited some of her HIV+ patients to join the group, and has also encouraged them to join a CARE for AIDS program.
  • Regina, who was invited by Veronica, says she used to collect her medicine without talking to anyone, and would go home and take it in secret. Veronica, and this group have “brought life and joy” to her.
  • James is the chairman of Mwangaza, and he summarizes the mission of the group this way: “We wanted to lift each other up physically and spiritually. We know we can’t solve problems alone, but in a group we can help each other with finances, health and even stress and depression. We are a product of CARE for AIDS. You did a good job.

Before our program, Francisca, the head of hospitality for Mwangaza, was suffering from loneliness in an intentional isolation. When she had been diagnosed with HIV, her sister gave her some advice: “Lock your door, stay inside, and die.” Francisca was following this advice when, one day, there was a knock on her door. It was Sarah and John, the center staff from Gachie. They had been doing home visits with some of the CFA clients in the neighborhood, and one of their clients told them about a neighbor who was secluded and potentially HIV+. Francisca clearly remembers the light that came in with John and Sarah and how Sarah told her, “Come outside! There are people here who want to know you!” Francisca joined the program the next year, and now she is so convinced of the power of home visits, that her role in the group is to organize home visits among the members of the group.

Going back to Bosco’s words that he shares with clients at the beginning of the program- we walked with these individuals for nine months and did the best we could to empower and encourage them. Now, one year later, the small group is helping these men and women continue their journey of living with HIV. I’ll end with the words of Ruth, the secretary of Mwangaza: “When the program ended, we didn’t go to sleep. We are continuing, and we will continue.”

During this season of lent we want to invite you to join us in prayer around specific topics. We have created a prayer guide that you can access here