This post is written by Senior Fellow Nancy Cabelus, DNP, MSN, RN, an international forensic nurse consultant currently working with Physicians for Human Rights on a program addressing sexual violence in conflict zones in central and east Africa.
In recent weeks I reported from Kenya that I was invited to join a medical team sponsored by a Global Grant awarded to Rotary Club of Davis, California. Our mission was to provide training to medical doctors, nurses and students on Abusive Head Trauma in infants. One morning after lecturing in western Kenya at Kisii District Hospital, Rotarian and director of Africa HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), Vickie Winkler gave us a new assignment. She arranged for us to help local residents build a mud house for a Kenyan woman living with HIV. In the making of this hut, history happened inside a village of Kisii, Kenya.
A Kenyan woman, I will call Ann, is married with one daughter. When Ann was tested for HIV and found to be positive, Ann was “chased” from her husband’s home, meaning disposed of by her husband and the community. How Ann acquired HIV makes no difference. In many circumstances, women like Ann are infected with the virus by their spouse or they could be infected during childbirth. Regardless, Ann was thrown out of the village without a job, financial means, an education, and a home for her and her young daughter. The stigma and shame placed upon African women like Ann is insurmountable and meanwhile, these women are also fighting with a life-threatening virus. Situations like Ann’s are not unusual in Africa.Africa HEART’s Women’s Equality and Empowerment Program (WEEP), funded by grants and independent donors, currently has 188 women enrolled.
To qualify for the WEEP program, women must meet criteria of which include being HIV positive and widowed or abandoned. During the one-year program, the women will be educated about HIV/AIDS and how to manage their illness. The women will also be taught vocational skills to provide them with employment and economic security after graduating from the program. Perhaps through divine intervention, Ann was accepted into the WEEP program last year and very recently, Ann was welcomed home by her younger brothers to the village in Kisii where she was raised. Ann’s brothers gave Ann a small plot of land on their property and the District Chief in the region of Kisii, in accordance with the newly passed Constitution in Kenya, authorized the deed in Ann’s name.
What is truly groundbreaking about this story is that women in Kenya are now entitled to own land. The Constitution of Kenya of 2010 calls for “elimination of gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property in land”. The community celebrated Ann’s return home by helping to build a small mud house on her land for her daughter. This community event has set precedence that empowers women to cast aside HIV status and break through barriers of stigma and despair.
Funds raised by Rotary International covered the costs to build the mud house that matches the cultural style of other homes in the village. Rotary supports the construction of approximately 10 mud homes per year.