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The Fight Against Stigma

    Numbers and statistics are great, but today, I want to tell you a story.

    When Christina and I were in Kenya, working in the Kiambiu slum, the issue of HIV and AIDS came up a lot. It was my understanding that they were the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths in Africa each year. But one day, while talking to Ruth, an HIV positive woman living in the community, she corrected my misunderstanding. “HIV doesn’t kill people, and neither does AIDS.” she said matter-of-factly. “What do you mean?” I asked “If HIV and AIDS aren’t killing people, then what is?” She looked me right in the eye and replied, “Stigma.”

    Ruth found out she was HIV positive 10 years earlier and since then had come to accept her status. She took antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) every day to keep her immune system strong, and for 10 years, she remained fairly healthy. But in the years since she started disclosing her status to people, discrimination plagued her life.

    First it was her family. She told them about her newly discovered status, and they rejected her, kicking her and her three boys out of the house. Then her neighbors. She informed them that she was HIV positive, and they stopped letting their children come to her house and play with her kids. Then her community. She began to advocate against HIV/AIDS stigma, freely divulging her status, and suddenly she was being harassed in public, humiliated by old friends, and shunned by everyone she knew.

    It’s precisely these reactions that keep hundreds and thousands of people from getting tested each year. The fear of humiliation, isolation, harassment, and rejection. Some people kill themselves after they find out they have HIV. It’s too much for them to bear. Others simply deny it, pretending they don’t know and refusing to alter their lifestyle. Hundreds of clinics in Kenya, and dozens surrounding Kiambiu offer ARVs for free to HIV positive men and women. And yet many people still refuse to get them. Refuse to take them. Pretend like they aren’t there.

    The lack of education surrounding this disease is exactly what makes it so deadly. Thousands of people are living prosperous lives while still dealing with the reality that they are HIV positive. Thousands more are dying because they are too scared to admit the truth to themselves.

    But there is hope. Ruth told me another story, about a time she talked a man out of ending his own life after finding out he was HIV positive. She cleared up some misconceptions he had about his condition, and then started coaching him back toward the road of stability and hope.

    This is just a fraction of what education does for a community. It allows women like Ruth to combat, not just the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS, but the even deadlier factor that continues to wreak havoc on Kiambiu and other communities like it: stigma.

“Young people must have access to information, HIV testing and treatment free of stigma and discrimination.” -Jantine Jacobi (UNAIDS Country Director, Kenya)

Overcoming

Our most recent project, “Empower Kenyan Girls through Education” aims to provide girls in Kiambiu with the opportunity to pursue the education that they’re constitutionally guaranteed. Mercy is one of the young women benefitting from this project, and her story is a testament to the motivation and passion that characterizes the youth in her community. […] Continue reading →

Beating the Odds, by Humphrey Muchuma

Living in the slums outside Nairobi presents residents with a unique set of challenges. Crime, poverty, and drug abuse, even by children, continue to rise in these communities. These are in many ways, inevitable challenges that come with living in an insecure environment such as this. One challenge that we shouldn’t have to expect though, […] Continue reading →

Education & Rights

It’s impossible to know your rights if no one ever took the time to teach them to you. For many women in Kenya, it is in school that they learn for the first time about their basic human and legal rights. Many are not taught about these things in their communities or by their families. […] Continue reading →

Serving Local Passion

“Why don’t we, for once, instead of arriving in the community to tell people what to do, why don’t we, for once, listen to them?” -Ernesto Sirolli Action Two Africa is a partnership built on listening to local passion. Christina and I met Humphrey when we were living in Kenya, and after sitting with him […] Continue reading →

Every Girl Counts

According to the African Development Bank, more girls in Africa are in school today than ever before. In fact, the number of girls in East Africa that are attending school has almost doubled in the last 10 years. This is promising news, and reason to celebrate! However, the girls who are not currently in school, […] Continue reading →

Girl’s Power

Empowering girls matters. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), when girls are in school, they are “less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; less vulnerable to disease; more likely to have healthy babies; more likely to send their own children to school; […] Continue reading →

Back to School

  The new year has started on a high note for operations at Action Two Africa. Schools reopened on January 7th, and Action Two Africa’s sponsored children have returned another term full of learning and studying. Marlyne, a 16-year old Kiambiu resident and Action Two Africa’s first beneficiary, is now in her last year of […] Continue reading →