Neema women, acts from strengths in the face of AIDS pandemic.

Neema self help group Is based in Kisoko Sub-location, Busia Sub-county. The group consists of 32 women and one man. The group was formed in 2005 May, because the HIV/AIDS impact was gruelling with many people getting infected, knocking several to death, some lying in their death bed, largely of the Busia population hiding in the cocoons of fear and anxiety, and tied to their belief in ‘secrecy’ of the Menace- AIDS. Neema is a Swahili word for ‘mercy’ in English.

In the year 2005, Mulama a community health worker was working with an NGO-ADEO. He could not sit and watch as the disease ravaged his village community. The number of infected people, OVCs, widows was staggering. Mulama requested his organization ADEO for mobile VCT support to his community Kisoko. The Kisoko CBO office, offered space to carry out the testing.  During the exercise, Some members from Neema group were tested; Two of them were Negative and one Positive.

Then in the year 2006, and after the three women who were tested began to think on what to do to help them out of their situation. They began by creating awareness in the sub-location. They invited another VCT testing campaign. In same year (2006 April), another mobile VCT was conducted and the turn up for testing increased.  During the 2nd testing session in Kisoko, *Anyango was not ready to take a test in his local village, so she went privately to Butula for an HIV test where the test was positive. She got her post test counselling that helped dispel fear and anxiety.

She got back home with hope and announced publically to the group that she was positive. When the husband heard of this publicity of her wife’s HIV positive status, he threatened to divorce Anyango her first wife. A few also from the group and who had tested positive for HIV were asking themselves; Where and how did I get the virus? So Mulama went to the man *Obongo (Husband to Anyango) offered counsel to the couples. Obongo too accepted to be tested with the second wife. Obongo discovered that he was negative while her second wife was positive to HIV.

Mulama began to visit the family of Obongo regularly to offer counseling and encouragement.Mulama’s visit engendered a lot of hope and resilience to cope with the daunting situation of AIDS. They are now in the ART programme and their health has improved. This is the same message in the group, 100% know their HIV status and have been put on treatment. Chairlady of the group was assertive to say, “we do not look like widows anymore – deep in sorrow and ravaging thinking! It was really stressful. No one wanted to put an eye on us. We were highly stigmatized starting in our families. But today, we are proud of ourselves and our journey. We can now work to earn a living to support ourselves and our children.”

The group has initiated income generating activities ranging from Vegetable gardens, poultry keeping, sugar cane farming, Dairy cow and pig rearing project. All these listed income generating activities are meant to supplement the group nutrition and the surplus in sold out to the local market to improve their household income levels.

To date, the group has influenced the formation of 3 other Support groups in other sub- areas in the neighbourhood of Kisoko.

The women yearn for that one day when, HIV will be no more, and moreover, when they will be able to see all their children and grand children go through basics secondary education to Tertiary levels and secure a job to support themselves and their families. Neema PLHAS group is truly a stream of flowing waters of joy; the epitome of change from within; a beacon of hope; wonderful women who have chosen hope over fear; and constantly act out of their strengths to respond.

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Story captured by, Jackson Mulama,Onesmus Mutuku, Lawrence Emaide , Rosaline Ojwang  during a SALT VISIT in December 2010 to Neema PLHAs group in Kisoko Community, Busia County - Kenya

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Advice from the Story – encourage the less fortunate to accept, be tested and build on their strength.

Consequences of this advice - Building on ones strengths after knowing their HIV/AIDS status helps one live a healthy life, and he or she is at peace in life.

Story ref: Jacksonmulama@yahoo.com

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