We are very fortunate to have a fantastic guest blogger, Jennifer Allen from the Diocese of Kansas, sharing some of her experiences in Kenya with us as we commemorate World AIDS Day.
Jennifer Allen is an Episcopalian from the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. She has traveled with Kansas to Kenya (K2K) for two weeks each of the past three summers. She is a member of Saint Michael and All Angels Church in Mission, Kansas. She has served on the vestry at St. Michaels and has been a delegate to the Kansas Diocesan convention and is an alternate delegate for the national convention. Professionally, she is a nurse who specializes in the development of patient support programs to increase adherence to medication regimens for UBC. She has been married to David for 25 years, and their children, Matt and Olivia, are in college and actively involved in the church. Matt and Olivia both hope to travel with Jennifer to Kenya in the near future. She chronicles her work in Kenya on her blog at jen2kenya.blogspot.com
There is a highway that runs through Kenya from Mombasa to the South Sudan. It is known, generally, as the AIDS highway. Nestled along the highway is the village of Maai Mahiu. As we observe World AIDS Day, I’d like to share some of my experiences in Kenya with you: I have had the blessing of working for three years with the Community Team for Kansas to Kenya (K2K) in this community. We have a number of active initiatives working in Maai Mahiu and the surrounding communities in conjunction with the College Team and the Medical team. We have been able to provide clean water, drip irrigation, school meals for orphans, malaria nets, dental clinics, medical clinics, housing, two libraries with eReaders in partnership with WorldReader, microfinance programs, seminars in five communities to provide education to women on women’s rights, infant and maternal health, nutrition, reproductive health, dental care, spirituality and prayer, and alcohol and substance abuse; and construction and administration of Agatha’s Amani House, a safe house for women who are victims of gender based violence. All of these initiatives depend on our on-going relationships with the people of Maai Mahiu, Nakuru, and Naivasha.
Two initiatives in particular hold special significance to me, the conferences and Agatha’s Amani House. The women in these communities face incredible hurdles due to the economic conditions with which they are faced. Adding to those troubles, many of them have been subjected to horrific violence. During the post election violence of 2007-2008 that battered Kenya, these women were victims of rape, torture, and murder. As a result of the rape and the very real sex trafficking that occurs along the AIDS highway, many of these women suffer from a variety of sexually transmitted diseases that have left them with chronic illness, infertility, and other reproductive health issues. Sadly, this leads to an increase in the already high levels of gender based violence.
The opportunity to provide women with the tools that they need to overcome violence in their lives is a rare blessing. Our seminars open with prayer and songs of praise. Even faced with tremendous challenges, these women recognize the abundance of God’s love and grace. And it is the relationships with these women that provide the greatest blessing and the greatest opportunity for change and growth. Over the three years that I have been involved with the conferences, I have seen the growth of community activism and the dedication of the women that we see every year. These women are engaged in making real change in their families and wider communities. We are their partners in change and I treasure the relationships that we have built over the past three years. Together we are looking within our community to find the strength to say enough, no more, we will raise healthy daughters in healthy communities, with healthy relationships.
Agatha’s Amani House provides a different level of support. The house provides a safe place for women who are no longer able to negotiate a healthy relationship with their spouse or family members. Many of the women who we have worked with have been subjected to physical violence, rape, incest, arranged marriages of young girls, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. The women served receive vitally needed health care, shelter, protection, and training for future success. The house itself provides a warm home, with a well outfitted kitchen, a brightly colored common room, comfortable sleeping quarters, a biogas generator, drip irrigation and land for crops, rabbits, goats, and a cow. From the community, we employ a staff social worker and a house mother. Together we provide access to our microfinance program and the women are prepared for a successful life away from the violence that they have come to know in their prior home life.
There continue to be many challenges. The undervaluing of women in the local economy leads to sex trafficking of women and young girls to increase family income. Because so many children are functional orphans due to unstable family environments, they are at risk of endangerment, exploitation, and violence. As children are raised facing violence and exploitation, they come of age with a skewed and disproportionate sense of the disposable nature of children and women. Because of the exposure to multiple partners to which these children and women are subjected, AIDS, hepatitis, and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases continue to plague the region. Inconsistent access to health care and much-needed medications leads to advancing disease. But as the conversation moves forward with the community leaders we have come to know and with the resources and dedication of a prayerful community working together, there is a very real chance to achieve significant change in these communities.
For more information about Kansas to Kenya, please visit us at www.kansas2kenya.com.