FANIKISHA Brings Back Hope: Jemila’s Story of Living Positively with HIV in Kenya

 {Photo courtesy: Kenya’s National Organisation of Peer Educators}Jemila Hussein, shown here with her vegetable business; is no longer hiding from her HIV diagnosis.Photo courtesy: Kenya’s National Organisation of Peer Educators

Jemila Hussein, a 35-year-old widow and mother of six, lives in Namba, Migori Sub County, Kenya. In August 2008, Hussein’s life took a downturn when she tested positive for HIV. Deeply ashamed and fearing the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, she isolated herself from her community. Her husband’s death had significantly reduced the family income, and Hussein worried about her children’s basic needs and education. She was convinced that she would die and leave them orphaned.

Through a community HIV and AIDS sensitization program, Hussein was directed to the Kibera Community Self Help Programme (KICOSHEP), where she was counseled on how to live positively with HIV. She was assured that her illness could be managed.

KICOSHEP, an affiliate of Kenya’s National Organisation of Peer Educators (NOPE), is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded and Management Sciences for Health (MSH)-led FANIKISHA Institutional Strengthening Project. FANIKISHA builds the capacity of national-level Kenyan civil society organizations (CSOs) to improve the health and well-being of all Kenyans. FANIKISHA first builds the institutional capacity of national CSOs, and then helps them mentor their affiliates to do the same. In 2013, FANIKISHA collaborated with NOPE to strengthen KICOSHEP’s grants management capacity. NOPE then issued a grant to KICOSHEP to expand and better manage its HIV and AIDS programs in Migori County. This expansion included the launch of a new support group in Namba, to reach people such as Hussein.

The Namba group is comprised of members living positively with HIV and AIDS. These members work to sensitize the community about HIV and AIDS and train other support group members on how to start income generating activities. Through this group, Hussein learned how to maintain her health by adhering to her treatment and eating a nutritious diet. She now understands that being HIV positive does not mean that she has AIDS. She has also started a vegetable business, which is helping her to support her children and reintegrate back into her community.

Says Hussein:

Thank you for your support in linking me with this group. I am determined to live positively and show my community that my HIV status is not a life sentence. I will lead my normal life.

Today, she is an active support group member who educates HIV positive mothers about how to prevent transmission of the virus to their unborn children. Hussein has become a role model on how to live a healthy life with HIV.