Winona’s Story

 Posted by Peter Martin at 12:18 am  Kenya
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.



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