Peter Martin

Peter Martin

I am from New York and have experience in HIV/AIDS Counseling and am currently transitioning to a career in Global Affairs with a focus on the developing world.

Women and Girl’s Empowerment

 Posted by Peter Martin at 9:22 pm  Kenya  Comments Off on Women and Girl’s Empowerment
Sep 022013
 

As my 5 weeks of volunteering with Living Positive Mlolongo come to an end, I would first like to thank the three Kenyan women that helped make my experience a profound one; Mary, the director, and Abigail and Cate, the social workers. I also would like to thank my Kenyan family Elizabeth, Flora, Felicia, Jacob, Alfred and Lulu that took me in as one of their own the second I arrived.

Prior to arriving here in Kenya, I was a firm believer in women and girls empowerment, particularly when it came to the developing world. My seven years of involvement back in the states with the organization CARE helped me to see the great impact women and girls can have on society and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit a CARE Kenya project in Embu that focuses on empowering women through a Group Savings and Loans project. One cannot deny the statistics that glaringly show how women and girls are oppressed and underutilized in many parts of the world. As I volunteered here for 5 weeks, I have undoubtedly witnessed this with my own eyes.

In connection to this, one of the more profound moments I had while here in Kenya was with my friend David, who I met not far from my home on one of my first nights here. We sat down in his nearby Church and he talked to me about his belief in women ‘s empowerment and how he started a community based organization back in his village that focused on women’s empowerment. The organization did not have a significant impact on his community though due to the fact that his belief in women’s empowerment was not shared among the other men in his village. Essentially, he was the only man in his village who believed in women’s empowerment. As I was sitting there talking to him, I could not help but think that there was no other place that I was supposed to be at that exact moment. It was no accident that I had met one of the few Kenyan men that believe in women and girl’s empowerment. Here I was, a New Yorker from the Western world and David a Kenyan man from a small village on the border of Kenya and Uganda, and we spoke passionately about how women and girls empowerment can have such a positive impact on developing countries across the world, particularly in Africa. As I said goodbye to him that night, I was truly inspired and that feeling never left me for the remainder of my stay in Kenya.

In closing, the women and children I have had the privilege to meet and work with for the past weeks will be forever embedded in my heart. The relationships that we formed have undoubtedly been mutually beneficial and I will be forever grateful for that. They have further impassioned me in this cause and my belief that women and girls are the solution to many of the world’s problems has grown even stronger.

 

Betsy’s Story

 Posted by Peter Martin at 3:28 am  Kenya  Comments Off on Betsy’s Story
Aug 292013
 

This journal entry carries more hope than my previous one and it focuses around the power of a common question that we often take for granted. Betsy (name changed for privacy) is a Kenyan woman in her mid-twenties that is HIV+, has one child, and lives in a slum not far from where I am living. She was infected by her first husband and fortunately her current husband is HIV-.  Only a few people in her community know of her status, among them her husband and a friend.  The reason for the lack of people knowing her status and the resulting lack of support is the stigmatization that surrounds the HIV/AIDS community.

Myself and a a few coworkers were invited to her home by a friend of hers that lives in the same slum. As were sitting in her home and trying to get to know her, she was acting very shy and it was very clear that she is living alone with this disease. Our main goal in visiting her was to offer our support and assure her that she is not alone and that there are resources available to her. Amidst her shyness and hesitancy towards communicating with us, I looked in her eyes asked her the simple question of, “How are you feeling?”.  She didn’t respond. I then persisted and rephrased the question to, “What is the first emotion you feel when you wake up in the morning?”.  She then started crying and simply said, “There is a pain in my heart.” From this simple question there was a breakthrough with Betsy. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the first person to sincerely ask her that since the time she was diagnosed with HIV. We reassured her that she is not alone and that there are other women in the community that have experienced the same pain but through the support of others it has lessened or even disappeared completely.

The good news for Betsy is that she has been receiving treatment for HIV for a couple years now, has a high CD4 count (A high CD4 count means the immune system has yet to be significantly compromised), and is far from being diagnosed with AIDS. She will start going to a woman’s support group at Living Positive Mlolongo every Friday afternoon.  The bottom line is that she has a future ahead of her and can potentially live a long life. Her main issue at the moment is her emotional health and depression, though after asking that simple question, “How are you feeling?”, she was able to express her pain and hopefully that is where the healing begins.

Winona’s Story

 Posted by Peter Martin at 12:18 am  Kenya  Comments Off on Winona’s Story
Aug 192013
 

           From the moment I arrived here in Kenya, I have witnessed situations that are truly heartbreaking and others that carry hope. The first woman I met on my first day of work has a story that is hard to shake. Her name is Winona (I have changed her name to protect her privacy). She is 32 years old and lives in a slum with her family (Although I am not very comfortable as a someone from the Western world to use this term, in actuality it is the only word used by Kenyans to describe such areas). She was infected with HIV by her husband several years ago and is currently living with full blown AIDS and has lesions covering her face. Fortunately, she is receiving treatment but one needs to only take a quick glance at her to know she is not good condition and does not have a long future ahead of her. She has four young children, the oldest being a 14 year old girl who has a 2 year old child due to being raped by her father’s friend. (No criminal action was taken, which happens more often than not and is truly hard to swallow).  This daughter’s education is fortunately sponsored and she is able to attend boarding school which means that Winona is the primary caretaker of her grandchild. What this all means is that Winona’s first priority in life is taking care of her four children and grandchild. Her second priority is taking care of herself and doing the best she can to prolong her life.

      The support system surrounding her is not a strong one. Her husband, the person who infected her,  brings negative energy to the home and often verbally abuses her. Additionally, Kenyan society tends to stigmatize people with HIV and leave them to fend for themselves with little resources.This undoubtedly has happened to Winona. Winona’s story is all too familiar in Kenya, and Africa as a whole. It is especially hard for her due to the fact that she is a woman. Women’s empowerment is not very prevelant in Kenya. In the opinion of one of my female Kenyan coworkers, “About 30% of Kenyan men believe in the empowerment of women.” Compound this fact with a woman such as Winona who is living with full blown AIDS, and you have a very sad and tough situation.

          On the bright side though, there are Community Based Organizations such as Living Positive Mlolongo that advocate for women like Winona and aim to empower them and make their lives more comfortable and more humane. This is done by showing up at their homes with a smile, counseling them, advocating for them, arranging hospital visits if necessary, teaching them skills that can earn them money and simply showing them unconditional love, something that is lacking in their lives. I am fortunate to be able to share in this experience by working with Living Positive Mlolongo. Having studied Global Affairs with a focus on the developing world, I was aware of the things I would see upon arrival. While a classroom environment has it’s value, witnessing these situations with one’s own eyes is much more profound and has the ability to show our common humanity. As I was sitting in Winona’s home, I was no longer a New Yorker from the Western world and she was no longer a woman from Kenya. It was simply two human beings that bleed the same color.

 

1st Journal Entry

 Posted by Peter Martin at 4:06 am  Kenya  Comments Off on 1st Journal Entry
Aug 052013
 

I am all settled in in Kenya. For the next four weeks I will be volunteering in Mlolongo, Kenya working with the HIV/AIDS population, primarily women and children. I will be working with a small Kenyan organization called Living Positive Mlolongo, whose primary focus is the empowerment of people living with HIV/AIDS. I will primarily be making home visits to the affected population. I am lucky to be able to bring my experiences as an HIV Counselor in NYC to the people of Mlolongo. I have no doubt this will be an emotional time for me, but I am confident that these women and children will have as much to offer me as I have to offer them. I have been here for less than a week so far I and am already truly inspired by their strength and courage. I also am living with a wonderful Kenyan family who welcomed me in as one of their own the second I arrived and it nice to go home to them every evening.


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