Before the birth of the Uzima program of St Joseph the Worker parish in Kangemi, it was taboo to speak about AIDS in this Nairobi slum. In 2004, Uzima (“life” in Swahili) created a space where people with HIV could come and get support to cope with their situation. The very first people who openly disclosed their status came to the program when it was already too late, so the early approach of Uzima was to ensure that they had a dignified life in their remaining days and a dignified burial.
Uzima employed several strategies to make the community more aware of the HIV situation in Kangemi, to encourage testing and to overcome stigma. More people started enrolling in the program, getting tested during the early stages of their condition, becoming more active in support groups and growing stronger emotionally. As people with HIV started to live longer thanks to medical treatment, the approach of Uzima changed to empowering them economically, socially and physically.
For Uzima, its best practice is the participatory approach adopted in all its prevention and care activities. The project has 230 direct beneficiaries, mostly women, and in any given week, at least two support groups are held, where they meet to share and learn from one another. Individual and group counselling are available. Since the role of a man in any household is highly recognized, a “male champion” strategy was launched to recruit and train more men to promote healthy lifestyles, including getting tested, speaking openly with one’s partner about one’s status, and coming forward for treatment – all things many men remain highly reluctant to do. This strategy has really worked well, with more men actively involved in HIV prevention activities.
Uzima clients also come together for income-generating activities of beadwork, soap-making and poultry. Many have done well from the sales of their products, as evidenced by their improved living conditions, and the Hope of Life self-help group was initiated as a way of encouraging them to save money.
Material support is there for those in need, with food baskets for weak clients who are starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) and TB treatment. For medical care, Uzima liaises with the parish dispensary and others. Community health workers play a significant role, going to visit people affected by AIDS, accompanying them to clinics and ensuring they adhere to their treatment.
Prevention is an important part of Uzima’s activities. Outreach forums are part of the participatory approach. The program facilitates forums where key stakeholders in the community, like faith leaders and heads of institutions, meet to discuss ways of addressing the pandemic. Other forums are organised for specific bodies like youth groups and women’s groups.
Uzima participates actively in key awareness-raising activities in Kangemi, such as those held to mark World AIDS Day, the Day of the African Child and the Church Day of the Sick. Services for the public include door-to-door campaigns and medical camps.