28 November 2012

Uganda: Kinawataka Women Won't Let HIV Put Them Down

Photo: Patrick Jaramogi/New Vision
Florence Nansubuga 43 and Nakku Florence 45 have been living with HIV for 17 years.

When Jane Nakawuki and her husband Yusuf Damulira tested HIV-positive, they did not sit back and wallow in self-pity. They knew they needed a stable source of income to look after themselves and this was not going to come from hand-outs.

So, they decided to engage in income generating activities and joined Kinawataka Women's Initiative (KIWOI), an organization that teaches women how to engage in income generating activities and sensitises them about HIV/AIDS.

"After testing HIV-positive, I told my wife about it and requested her to go for a check-up. When she tested, she was also positive," Damulira says. The couple did not have sustainable income to support themselves.

So, when they came to know about KIWOI, they joined it. Currently, Damulira is a full-time employee at the organisation, while his wife weaves baskets and is involved in poultry keeping to sustain the family.

Margret Nakibuule, another HIVpositive woman who has been in the group for six years, had separated with her husband with whom she had three children. After the separation, she learnt how to make crafts, which she sold to get money.

She says her first earning from the crafts was sh500,000, which she invested in farming. Fortunately, she also had land, so she engaged in farming and managed to construct a three-bedroom house. She would grow beans, cassava, matooke and potatoes.

Later, a friend advised her to invest in oranges because they have ready market. She used half an acre of her land for oranges and used the other part for growing other crops. Nakibule says in a good season, she earns sh600,000.

She adds that she gets between sh50,000 and sh200,000 on a market day from the crafts, depending on the demand. "I use this money to buy things at home.

I have also educated my children. One of them is a doctor, another has graduated from university, while another is in S6," she says.

How it started

KIWOI was started by Benedict Nanyonga in 1988 when Uganda was healing from the bush war. She later registered it as a non-governmental organisation in 1998.

The organisation had its headquarters in Mbuya, which was also the military headquarters. Many truck drivers used the route.

"As a result, there was promiscuity in the barracks as the truck drivers would stop by and have sex with the women. This increased the HIV infections.

With the help of KIWOI, we hoped that the infections would stop," Dismas Okeda, the quality assurance coordinator of KIWOI, explains. The organisation also sensitized the women and children about the dangers of HIV.

"However, this was not enough because poverty was at the heart of killing people and not HIV/AIDS," Okeda says. To solve this problem and save people from languishing in poverty, Nanyonga started to teach the women infected and those affected by the virus activities that would help them generate income in their homes.

The food question

"Women are the ones who run the families. If they are empowered, then the whole community would be okay," Nanyonga says.

Besides, as time went by, Nanyonga felt it was not good for the women to take antiretrovirals (ARVS) without enough food. "ARVs require that you have adequate food to eat before taking drugs.

But without money where would the women get the food? We had to teach them how to work and earn money and at the same time show them how to grow food in their backyard gardens," Nanyonga says.

They taught the women how to grow vegetables in tins and sacks at home, so that they could have a balanced diet. For those who had much, they would sell some and earn money.

"We also taught them mushroom growing. They sell them and get money to take care of their families." The women were also trained in tailoring, poultry keeping and pig rearing so that they could earn a living and also educate their children.

"We make bags, mats and belts from straws, which we pick, while others are given to us by Coca-Cola," Nanyonga says.

"They sell these items in their homes, sometimes at exhibitions and foreigners like tourist stop at the centre and buy some of the products."

Nanyonga says sometime back, they requested $3,000 (about sh7.8m) from the UN so that they could help women infected with HIV/AIDS.

However, the organization was given $1,000 (about sh2.6m) for drugs and a health centre was established where people get tested and counselled. KIWOI has also devised means to ensure that the women get more training and they have partnered with other stakeholders to help women get out of poverty.

KIWOI also partners with National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS), which gives them seeds, chicks and animals like pigs, which help the women earn a living. "When they give you a pig, you sell it and give back 70% of the income.

You can do it in installments and after that all the income that you get from the pigs remains yours," Okedo says. Women are also taught how to save and if they want to borrow from the group, it becomes easier.

Women who want to get money for home emergencies or expand their businesses borrow at a 10% interest rate, which is lower than that of banks.

KIWOI, however, does not cater for only women, but also men. Right now the group is made up of 80% women and the 20% men. However, they are not all HIV-positive.

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