How education transformed my life – my experience in working with girls and women at Mirror of Hope
Author: Judy Onyango – Founder of Mirror of Hope, Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya
Having lived through challenges of accessing education and the troubles my mum underwent just so that she could see us through school, provide shelter and offer us the basic needs in life, I developed a great desire to work for and with vulnerable members of the society particularly women and girls since it was a life I had lived hence would understand the challenges this group of people were facing. The desire grew even stronger whenever I came across more women and girls with similar challenges.
When I got an opportunity to pursue my education further, my first and only choice was to do a degree course in social ministry. I wanted to work with the society, to help them become better people in terms of socio-economic empowerment. This course would equip me with the necessary skills and knowledge to support the less privileged in the society.
One day I as I was walking through Kibera, I saw a group of young children playing in sewage water and they could act like they were drinking it. My heart almost poured out. Another time my husband and I visited a house of one lady who was living positively, she was bedridden as a result of the virus. She had five kids aged between 4 years and 13 years. She was the sole bread winner and the sickness had taken a toll on her hence wasn’t able to provide for the family. The kids looked so malnourished and it was evident they were struggling to survive. None of the kids were attending school as that seemed more a luxury than a need. We got to learn that they survived through the assistance of neighbors and well-wishers. Other times her elder son, 13 years old, would go out to do some odd jobs such as carrying bricks, fetching water for households, carrying heavy luggage for shoppers in malls and other marketplaces in order to raise some money for the family. The odd jobs paid very little that they could barely survive from it. This real life experience was so touching and it left me in tears.
Another time my husband also got to learn of a household that had six children aged between 6 and 17 years but without a mother or father or even a guardian to head it. Both parents had died as a result of HIV/AIDS and the only relative who was caring for them abandoned them. The older child was the head of the house. According to those who knew them, the children were basically living each day at a time. They all dropped off from school after their mother passed on and had been involved in deviant activities as means of survival. The older child, being a girl, had engaged in prostitution activities as a way of raising income for the family. In the process of her prostitution work she got pregnant. As if that was not enough, she also got infected with HIV and this added more to their challenges.
My husband and I, having been touched by the plight of children and women in Kibera and the sufferings they were undergoing, decided to intervene by establishing an organization that would provide emotional support and a venue for change and a brighter future. It is through this intervention that Mirror of Hope was born.
Mirror of Hope is a community-based organization (C.B.O.) dedicated primarily to serving AIDS-affected and infected children as well as HIV positive women in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya.
Most of the women and children in the program were formerly receiving care and support from an organization that later abandoned them. As a result, they stopped receiving education, life skills, and material and moral support. Most of them dropped out of school and faced a myriad of problems that no one could respond to.
The women were HIV positive and were receiving medication alongside food supplies, while the children were receiving education and pyscho-social support. The questions were persistent, the women’s health deteriorated greatly and it was evident the kids were no longer attending school.
The project has two programs i.e. Orphaned and Vulnerable children support as well as Empowerment of HIV positive women.
The OVC Program entails education support, for both boys and girls though majority are girls due to their vulnerable situation. They are more prone to risky activities such as prostitution, pregnancy and early marriage. Other than education support, the program holds weekend and holiday programs for the children. These programs are aimed at reducing the peer influence and engagement of deviant behaviors that are easily acquired in the slum.
The weekend program is for the young ones in primary school who are expected to come to the office premises on Saturday afternoon. Here they are kept busy with a number of activities such as life skills training, talent searching and enriching and sporting activities among others. The holiday program involves all the children, both in primary, secondary and even those in college. This program takes place when the schools are closed for holidays and runs through the entire holiday period. Just as the weekend program, the holiday program to a great extent helps prevent the children from negative influence such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancies and early marriages among others. This we manage through engaging them in various activities from morning till evening on a weekly basis until schools open. With this engagement they have limited time to involve themselves in deviant activities. During the holiday program a lot is taught such as; programmes geared towards affirmation and boosting their confidence and self-esteem, how to study well and pass exams, Mentoring the girls on issues of adolescence and growing up, offering life skills training on various areas such as: Health and Diseases (HIV/AIDS, STDs and STIs among others), Relationships (how to relate to the male species; the old as well as their peers), issues on abortion and its dangers, Early marriages, Teenage pregnancy; Training the girls on gender based violence and abuse and how to protect themselves, rape cases, educating them on the issues of hygiene and sanitation, creating awareness on child trafficking; getting them involved in sporting activities as well as taking them on tours as a way of recreation and getting their minds off the daily hustles and bustles of the life they undergo hence develop a positive attitude towards life despite their shortcomings.
Recently we have also partnered with an organization known as Daktari Africa on a program geared towards helping the girl child deal with physical, emotional, and psychological issues that affect their well-being. This program has really benefitted our girls as they become more aware of their surrounding hence develop better mechanisms of dealing with them, such as rape cases, teenage pregnancies and personal relationships among others. This program provides an opportunity for the girls to share their joys, frustrations and predicaments both as a group and as in individual through the counseling sessions.
The women program was established for the purpose of empowering the HIV positive women to become self-reliant as well as to support one another in their emotional distress. This program has seen many women, who were literally bedridden, get up and begin to engage in income generating activities. Those who had given up hope due to frustrations, economic challenges and stigmatization can now confidently speak out about their status as a way of encouraging others as well as educating others on how to prevent themselves. They are also fully attending to their day to day businesses to provide for their families. Other than attending to their personal businesses, they also engage in other skills such as basket weaving from waste polythene bags (this helps a lot in environmental conservation as they use polythene bags thrown away which they clean and disinfect and is good for use). They also make ornaments from beads and used calendars as well as liquid soap which they sell to individuals, organizations and institutions. They have been able to ship the polythene bags a couple of times outside the country and this has fetched good returns for them.
We at Mirror of hope find so much joy and consolation when we see the women and children happy. Their infectious smiles continue to motivate us to work even harder and make life better for them.
So much still needs to happen. So far the program has 74 orphaned and vulnerable children with 30 women who are living positively. We would wish to double the number or even triple. But as it is, our hands are tied. We have 8 girls who finished form four last year and are currently doing community service within the slum as a way of giving back to the community for the education support so far. They are hoping to join college come September however this is dependent on availability of funds. From our identity…MIRROR OF HOPE…we are hopeful that they will receive the support needed to further their education as that is every girl’s dream.
In my culture there is a proverb that says “Oyieyo achiel ok kuny bur” translated to mean, “One rat cannot dig a hole”. This is to say that my husband and I cannot alone bring the desired change in Kibera and it is for this reason that we invite like-minded people to journey with us in this worthy course in order to uplift the life of women and girls from Kibera slum.