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An HIV-positive woman’s inspiring journey to economic empowerment

July 30, 2013 —

LAIKIPIA, Kenya — It is lunchtime, and Jane Kairuthi is very busy. Having only one assistant, she is overwhelmed by the flow of hungry customers to her small food kiosk, located in a low-income area of Nanyuki, a town in Kenya’s Laikipia County.

Jane in the food kiosk she runs with her husband. Jane’s business has grown steadily over the past three years. On a good day, she and her husband make up to 700 Kenyan shillings (about US$8), an income increase that has dramatically improved their lives and enabled them to educate their three children.

But life has not always been this profitable for Jane and her husband, both of whom were diagnosed with HIV seven years ago.

Jane first learned of her HIV status after being tested during a routine prenatal visit. She brought her husband to the clinic and he, too, tested positive.

News that they were HIV-positive made life even harder for a family that was already struggling. Jane’s husband had lost his job, and the little income Jane earned from buying and selling vegetables outside their rented house was not enough to provide for her family or pay the Ksh1,000 (about US$12) in monthly rent. Soon, Jane and her family were forced to move.

The couple then started taking antiretroviral drugs. Several months later, Jane gave birth to an HIV-negative baby boy.

Moving forward

In 2009, Jane and her husband joined the Likii Home-Based Care Support Group—one of 42 support groups in Laikipia County that help to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by HIV. These groups are supported by Caritas Nyeri, a FHI 360 partner in the AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance project, also known as APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde, that is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Jane harvests kale in her urban garden. Through participation in the group, Jane and her husband gained valuable business skills. Jane started by selling githeri (a staple of maize and beans) outside their rented room in Likii village. She made a profit of about Ksh300 (US$3) daily, some of which she put toward the support group’s savings and internal lending communities (SILC) scheme, an approach promoted by APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde that encourages members to save and borrow money to support their business needs.

Jane borrowed Ksh5,000 (US$57), which she used to rent a room for her business. “After renting the room, I got benches and a table from my neighbor at a small fee and started selling food,” she recalls.

Jane cooks githeri in her kiosk. To maximize profits, Jane asked her landlord to allow her to clear a section of the plot where people dumped garbage so she could create a garden. Today, this garden provides most of the vegetables cooked in Jane’s kiosk.

With the profits made from the food kiosk, the couple bought a one-quarter acre of land and built their own house near Nanyuki. Their food kiosk continues to thrive, and all three of their children are in school.

Jane’s resilient spirit is an inspiration to others. “People living with HIV should not give up,” Jane says. “They should continue working …. They should talk about their status.”

Jane is just one of thousands who have benefited from APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde’s interventions to promote economic well-being. “I never thought I would be able to educate my children but now I can,” Jane says, smiling. “If my daughter joins university, I can pay her fees.”

About APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde economic strengthening

Since 2011, APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde has helped to start and strengthen 412 support groups for families across five counties in Kenya. By March 2013, the groups had acquired Ksh8.7 million (just over US$100,000) in savings. In 2012, they provided loans to almost 6,000 members who are caring for more than 15,400 vulnerable children.

Read more about APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde here.

Photo credits: George N. Obanyi/FHI 360