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NEWS

October 27, 2021

finding hope, resilience and beauty in the slums of kibera

Families affected by HIV, like Ruth’s and Elizabeth’s, are now able to seek treatment and put food on the table thanks to AVSI’s “Tumikia Mtoto” (“Serve the Children”) project, funded by USAID

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By Roberta Alves
AVSI-USA Communications and Outreach Manager

Ruth and Elizabeth lead the group through an intricate maze of tin houses. The terrain is muddy. We are in Kibera, Kenya, the largest slum in Africa and the third largest in the world, with a population that varies between 500,000 to well over 1,000,000 depending on the source. Here, most residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$ 1.00 per day. Along the path, we see children playing dangerously close to the open sewage. A colorful mural brings some beauty to Kibera, but hope seems to be a concept that abandoned this place a long time ago. For Ruth and Elizabeth, on the contrary, hope is alive and well. They were both able to open their own small businesses thanks to AVSI’s “Tumikia Mtoto” (“Serve the Children”) project. We are on our way to visit their businesses. 

We first stop at Ruth’s “store.” She unlocks the door and brings a big yellow bowl full of silvery fish, tilapia to be precise. At lunchtime, she will begin to fry them to sell to people coming back from work later in the day. Ruth could afford the “jiko” (a small metal container used for burning charcoal), frying pan, and sieving spoon thanks to “Tumikia Mtoto.” Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by AVSI in partnership with World Vision Kenya, the project supports HIV-infected orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), and their households. This includes families like Ruth’s, in which two of her three children, ages 3 to 18, are HIV-positive.

“If I hadn’t received these assets, I couldn’t support my family. It is tough to live in this community, especially if you are HIV-positive,” says Ruth, who also carries the HIV virus and whose husband died from AIDS-related illnesses. “Problems never end, but I know I can rely on AVSI. The staff is always open to help, to accompany us. It was very hard during the COVID-19 pandemic because we rely on selling the fish to pay rent, and our business went down, but we knew that AVSI was with us. And now, we can pay the NHIF (National Hospital Insurance Fund), so I can seek assistance when somebody is sick.”

Next stop, Elizabeth’s little business. A five-minute walk takes us to a golden-painted tin house simply labeled in pen: “Ice Factory.” After opening the door, we find ourselves in a tiny improvised “gelateria” with a fridge full of rainbow-colored popsicles and freeze pops. Pick your flavor: orange, pineapple, chocolate, or strawberry. And pick your size: freeze pops cost a penny and popsicles a nickel. Elizabeth was able to rent the equipment and open her little “Ice Factory” thanks to an emergency fund provided by the “Tumikia Mtoto” project. She is proud of her business and cannot stop smiling while explaining how she makes her popsicles.

“Now that schools have reopened, my busiest time is dismissal because many kids walk by my business to go back home. When there is no movement, I have a portable cooler, so I can walk around the streets of Kibera to sell my popsicles and freeze pops,” explains Elizabeth, who hopes soon will be able to buy her own equipment. “From the sales, I make a profit and can provide for my family’s needs. Now, my children attend school regularly.”

Through the project, women like Ruth and Elizabeth receive financial training and learn how to manage their businesses and additional profits. AVSI works with the households to facilitate their access to treatment and care, support education of the children through returning to school and vocational trainings and providing psychosocial support and positive parenting classes. 

Visiting Kibera and meeting women like Ruth and Elizabeth was a reality check. Despite all the odds and thanks to AVSI’s support, both can seek treatment for their illness, put food on their tables, afford rent, send children to school, and hope again for a better future. One fish at a time. One popsicle at a time.

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