Home Visit Stories
Visiting the homes of your friends, family and neighbors is a common practice in Kenya. It's one of the things that, in my opinion, Kenyans do much better than Americans. They visit one another often and sometimes without a reason other than to just say hello and have a cup of tea together. Unfortunately, because of stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, if a community finds out that a person is HIV+, their visitors become a lot less frequent and sometimes stop completely with no one visiting them for months or even years.
As part of the CARE for AIDS model, our staff visit all of our clients several times throughout their time in the 9-month program. It's not uncommon for our staff to have been the first visitors, other than family, that our clients have had in a long, long time.
Since my very first summer spent in Kenya in 2011, I've realized there is incredible power in simply "being with" one another. To me, that's what these home visits are: a time to sit and be with each other. Maybe we learn a little about one another's stories; maybe we share a cup or tea or something to eat. Most importantly though, we're simply together. Supporting one another and reminding one another of our dignity and value just by taking the time to visit.
Today, I'm going to introduce you to a few clients who have graciously welcomed me (and often the teams of Americans with me) into their homes. Many of them have shared pieces of their story, parts of which I'll share with you today as well. So, we grab a cup of tea (or coffee, water, coke, whatever suits your fancy) and join me in visiting these new friends again today.
Rosemary is one our clients at Ruiru center. She was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. In 2015, her husband passed away in a work accident. Rosemary was left as a widowed housewife with no means of income generation. She and her three sons were evicted from their home. The shock from the loss of her husband and then her home sent Rosemary’s health into a downward spiral. With low immunity, she became susceptible to opportunistic infections that left her bedridden.
In November, our staff were introduced to Rosemary and enrolled her into the CARE for AIDS program. Still bedridden, she had a skin infection that covered her entire body with oozing sores. Having once been 165 pounds, she weighed slightly less than 100 pounds when we met her.
Through the CFA medical endowment fund, Rosemary has been able to receive specialized medical care and has already seen great improvements since our first visit with her. She is now ambulatory and has full use of her hands again. Her wounds are beginning to dry up and she is quickly gaining weight back. In telling us her story, Rosemary said she thought she had reached the end of life because she had no support but now she is hopeful for a better future with her sons. Her son, Simon, says that he is thankful for the entire CFA organization for all they have done and how much he has seen his mom improve in the last couple months. In his words, “CARE for AIDS has been a savior for my mom and our lives.”
Anastasia is one of our clients at Ruiru center. She is 24 years old and married to Simon. They have two children: Cynthia (3.5 years old) and Daniel (9 months old). Both Simon and Anastasia do casual labor as their work, meaning they accept day jobs doing construction or washing clothes as often as they can find them. When we entered Anastasia's home she said, "Welcome to my small house. One day, I hope to have a bigger house filled with many more children."
In the CFA program, Anastasia has learned to make liquid soap and she plans to begin selling it soon for income. When talking about the CFA staff at her center she said, "I can talk to them and instantly feel relieved. I feel like I have a sister and a brother. It's family."
Isn't this photo of Ibo sitting in her home just striking?! Ibo is 37 years old. She is a single mom to five children, ranging from 20 years old to 7 years old. Ibo is a Muslim, yet she enjoys and feels comfortable attending all of the CFA activities and counseling at the church where our staff have an opportunity to share the gospel and point her to our hope in Jesus. When she started our program, she weighed only 70 pounds because she wasn't getting enough to eat. Through a nutritional supplement from CFA, she has gained weight over the past several months and now weighs 95 pounds! She may be tiny in stature, but says she feels herself getting stronger every day.
Meet Patrick & Frieda
Patrick and Frieda are husband and wife. They are going through the CFA program together! When we arrived at their home, they ushered us in and said, "the peace of God is here [in this home]."
In 2007, Frieda was hospitalized and unknowingly injected with HIV+ blood, thus giving her the virus. She and Patrick were working at the time together in a barber shop. Patrick was also working as a pastor at their church. In 2011, the barber shop burned down in a fire. Unfortunately, the shop was never rebuilt due to a lack of funds.
While they are praying for God to intervene and provide consistent jobs for them, they are also being creative to have a source of income currently. Just outside their home they have made a space to raise chickens which they can sell. They are also using the skills they've learned through CFA to make and sell liquid soap and bar soap.
Meet Teresa and Dorcas
Teresa is one of our clients at Kiandutu center. She has known that she is HIV+ for 17 years now. She has two children; one of them, Dorcas, was with her at home when we visited. Dorcas also has two children, Blessing and Susan. Teresa's husband divorced her when she found out her HIV status and he later committed suicide, as he was likely also HIV positive. Dorcas's husband has also abandoned her and their two children. Dorcas lives back at home with her mom and is grateful for her help and care.
Teresa's favorite part of the CFA program was the spiritual counseling; it brought her hope and gave her courage. Through her time in the program, Teresa has gotten much stronger and is no longer ashamed of her status. She now feels free to share about it with others. Despite having to overcome difficult circumstances, the joy of this family is infectious. Their family reminds me that the impact of CARE for AIDS is for generations to come. CFA is not only impacting our clients but is also impacting their children and their children's children.
Meet Salome & Paul
Salome and Paul have been married for 20 years. Salome is 54 years old and Paul is 59. Salome is one of our clients at Kiandutu center, but Paul is not in the program with her. Salome has known about her HIV status for 10 years now, but still fears others finding out that she has HIV because they would discriminate against her if they knew. In the CFA program, she boasts that she's found many new friends and feels at ease around them.
Paul is not HIV positive, so the two are a discordant couple. It's not uncommon for men to leave their wives if it is found out that she is HIV+, even if he also has the virus. When asked why he stayed with Salome even once he knew of her status, Paul said, "Why would I leave? I love her and we are meant to be together. She keeps me laughing."
Paul has not yet accepted Christ, though we had the opportunity to share the Gospel with him. Salome is saved and asks that we join her in praying for Paul's salvation as well.
Jane is married and has 4 children (ages 17, 15, 8 and 11 months old). She found out her HIV status when she was pregnant with her youngest child. In Kenya, women have to be tested when they go to the clinic during pregnancy in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading to the child. Jane's husband and children have all tested negative for HIV, but are all very supportive of her. They often remind her to take her medicine.
Jane has to travel a long way to get to the CFA center, but she is a dedicated client and hasn't missed a single activity or counseling appointment. She said that because of the CFA program, she's regained her self-confidence and is no longer ashamed of her status. Through CFA, she's been taught how to make yogurt and soap and hopes to make money from selling them. She wants to save her earnings to one day have her own business that can support her family. Her dream is to open her own hair salon (she offered to give me braids!).
Meet Sibrhos & Mary
Sibrhos and Mary are both recent graduates of Kawangware center. While I didn't get to visit them in their homes, they told us their stories after the recent graduation celebration.
Sibrhos (pictured below on the left) moved to Kenya from Uganda and started dating a man she met in the Kawangware community. They lived together and he took good care of her, but when she became pregnant he left her. She soon found out that he had a wife and another family, and he abandoned her and their unborn child. Sibhros was distraught and when she gave birth she planned to kill her baby and take her own life. While she was in this very dark place, she met Salome and Peter, counselors at the CARE for AIDS center in Kawangware. Salome counseled Sibhros through her depression and helped her accept the new child as a blessing, not a curse. Sibhros gave birth to a healthy, HIV-negative baby girl and is now able to sustain herself and her child through the skills she learned in the program.
Mary (pictured above on the right) has known her HIV status since the late 1980’s and has struggled all her life to make ends meet. Her husband’s family rejected her when they found out about her status, and she spent many years moving from community to community looking for work to support her children. She eventually settled in Kawangware and heard of the CARE for AIDS program through a friend. She has learned many skills throughout her time with CARE for AIDS and is proud of her work. She is now able to provide for her children and is content with her life. “God has never abandoned me, even though I am HIV+. He has answered my prayers."
Ronald is also a recent graduate of Kawangware center. Our team had the chance to visit him in his home the day before graduation and then celebrate with him at the graduation ceremony!
When Ronald was first diagnosed with HIV he was working in Eldoret while his family was living in Nairobi. He was so weak and sick that he stayed in the hospital in Eldroret for a year and completely lost touch with his wife and children. Once he was well enough to travel back to Nairobi, he reunited with his family. When he heard about the CARE for AIDS program at Kawangware, he urged his wife to join the program with him. They graduated together and have learned all the skills they need to care for themselves and their children. Ronald has been so impacted through the program — he committed to recruiting 10 men for the next class!
“When I learned my status, I prayed that God would give me a second chance to live so I could continue to serve him.”
Lillian is a client at Huruma center. She has lived in Huruma for 3 years now. She has two sons, Eddie and Anthony, who live with their grandmother because Lillian isn't able to provide for them currently. Lillian does casual labor whenever she can find jobs, mostly she washes out plastic bottles to be recycled. Through the CFA program, Lillian has been able to meet more people who are "like her" (HIV+). She said she feels she can be open at the center about her struggles and has been encouraged by several friends she's made in the program that she can survive this life.
Lillian was open with us about not having a relationship with Jesus. She confessed that she's not proud of decisions she's made and the way she's been living and she wants to change. But she's afraid that if she accepts Christ, she'll just "mess up" again. I had the opportunity to share the gospel with her and the truth that none of us have it all together: we're ALL sinners and are daily in need of Jesus as our Redeemer and Savior.
Meet Helen, Catherine & Joseph
I took a recent team to visit these next three clients separately, but it turned out that all of their stories were connected.
We'll start with Helen (pictured 5th from the left below). Helen welcomed us into her home with the biggest smile and outgoing personality. She is married to John and together they have 3 kids. They've lived in the Huruma area for 10 years now. She found out her HIV status back in 2000 and was really sick, but John took good care of her. John is also HIV+ but isn't able to be in the CARE for AIDS program due to work hours. Helen found out about CFA through a previous client that she often visited, Rachel. Rachel wasn't doing well, so Helen visited her often to check on her, but found that she always had plenty of food and that Rachel would even offer some to Helen. Rachel asked her where she was getting this food, and found out that it was through the CFA program. She visited the center and quickly realized that CFA was "lifting people out of hard situations." Helen joined our next class of clients at Huruma center, but also recruited 5 others to join as well. "I know who God is and I cannot allow others to perish," she said. Two of her recruits were Catherine and Joseph.
Catherine has 6 girls. She isn't married and currently lives with three of her girls. She wants to see each of her children grow and have a home of their own one day. Catherine said she loves how comfortable she is when she's at the CFA activities at the church. She showed us some of the bead work she's learned to make through the CFA program.
Joseph is 65 years old. He has lived in Huruma for over 30 years. His wife has passed away, but he has three grown triplet daughters. Helen brought Joseph to the program because he was in very poor condition. Helen has known Joseph for a long time and has been taking him food to be sure he eats and takes his medicine. She noticed that Joseph wasn't leaving his home, was too weak to work, and was even unable to bathe himself properly anymore. So, she brought Joseph with her to the CFA center. He has already seen great improvement since joining our program. CFA has been able to provide him with enough food to regain some weight, activities for him to go to, and a community for him to feel welcome in. Joseph still has a ways to go, but he is already taking care of himself better, Helen says.
If you made it all the way through to the end, I hope you've been blessed, like I have, by getting to "meet" some of the clients we've visited recently. As all Kenyans say when you leave their home, "Karibu tena!" or "You're welcome again!"