Mahatma Ghandi said “poverty is the worst form of violence.”
That violence manifests itself in Northern Kenya through people who have poor nutrition and a higher risk of disease. They have a lower life expectancy and inadequate access to healthcare. For children it is poor school attendance and limited achievement, and for adults it means recurring disabilities and listening to your hungry children cry themselves to sleep.
In 2005, a census by the Government of Kenya found that 91.7% of individuals in Marsabit District are living below the National Poverty Line, making it the poorest of the 69 districts in Kenya (National Bureau of Statistics 2012). Apply that same demographic to an area the size of New England and you understand the scope of the disaster that we face.
Reversing the trend of poverty can only come through an individual’s ability to acquire new skills and learn adaptive behaviors. Climbing out of poverty is hard work but through resourcefulness and resilience it is possible.
That challenge is especially difficult if you are HIV+. While in the village of Loiyangalani, I met with a group of women whom we have recently enrolled as new entrepreneurs. Epori Lokitir is one such person. The government of Kenya provides her with free anti-retrovirals for herself and the youngest of her four children, who is three years old. She told me, “I used to be idle, waiting for people to help me. Before I had this business, I would take my medicine and my whole body would shake because I did not have enough food to eat. But now I can buy meat and I feel better.”
Aipa Kiboko has an even greater burden. When her husband found out that she was HIV+ he abandoned her. He has never been tested. Then her sister died of AIDS and she had the additional burden of not only caring for her three children (the youngest is HIV+), but also for her sister’s four children (the youngest is also positive). She told me, “I want all of my children to go to school. And I want them to look good. Now I can buy detergent so that we have clean clothes and I can even buy hair oil for my children.”
As she described her life, Aipa let the tears flow. I asked the group of women what gives them hope. “We want more training,” they told me. “We want to learn more so that we can do more business and improve ourselves. It is up to us now.”