Dorus Auma effortlessly weaves sisal fronds into a beautiful basket as she climbs a tiny path that snakes up a hill. The 73-year-old ended her farm work early today because she is attending a women’s group gathering.
You can identify members of the Kagwa Women’s Group by their light blue dresses and silky headscarves. These women live in the remotest part of western Kenya’s Homa Bay County, along the shores of Lake Victoria.
This is the region of Kenya where HIV is most prevalent, with about 25 per cent of residents living with HIV. This is why the women’s group was formed. Mrs. Auma joined in 2008 to receive support after three of her children died, forcing her to care for three grandchildren.
Mrs. Auma says, “HIV/AIDS robbed me of my three children, leaving me with the burden of having to take care of three children left in a vulnerable condition.”
The 28 members of the Kagwa Women’s Group support each other through a microfinance scheme known as a merry-go-round. The group provides loans to individual group members on a rotating basis. Loans are annual, returned with one per cent interest.
The women are also supported by NGOs that teach them strategies for savings and loans, so the co-operative can operate like a rural bank. The women raise money by making ropes, baskets, and mats. They save these earnings and provide them in the form of loans to group members.
Jedidah Mwenda is a specialist with a donor-funded project called APHIA II Plus. He explains: “When they meet on Thursdays, they collect all their material contributions. One of their members is sent to the nearby market, which is Oyugis, a distance of 61 kilometres, to go sell their products.”
The entire profit is loaned out to one group member, since the group does not have anywhere to keep the funds.
Mrs. Auma used her loan to start farming, so she can feed her grandchildren. They, in turn, help her with weaving baskets.
At first, women in Homa Bay County were reluctant to join the HIV caretaker group because of the stigma associated with the illness. But membership is paying off for the women in Kagwa Women’s Group.
Rose Anyango is a social worker in the county. She offers trainings on health and nutrition to the group and to school clubs. She says, “The women and the children are responding well and the stigma no longer exists. Through village savings and loaning, they are able to feed their children, as well as educate them.”
To read the full article on which this story is based, Women’s Cooperatives Ease Burden of HIV in Kenya, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya/
Photo: Dorcus Auma weaving sisal fronds / Credit Charles Karis, IPS