Empowering the Women in Kenya
I volunteered for the month of November in Kibera, Kenya. I worked with an amazing group of women who call themselves, “Power Women”. These women are all diagnosed with HIV and struggle to get through everyday life. Their goal is to support their families and fight the stigma of HIV in their community. Many think that because someone has HIV they are useless and become a burden to the community. The Power Women Group ate determined to show everyone this is not the case. They run a small shop in Kibera to support themselves.
When I was in Kenya it was a rollercoaster ride. Every day I was amazed by the positive attitude of these women. They would greet me with a smiling face and blazing hot cup of coffee. At the beginning of my trip I looked around at their smiling face thinking there is no way these women are struggling they are too happy. But, when we had discussion of rape and abuse the smiling women were the first ones to say they are abused and raped by their husbands. When telling their peers, myself, and the other volunteers the women would laugh as they told us they were raped. At first this really upset me. I would go home thinking why am I sitting here crying when they are laughing. They aren’t taking this seriously and I only have a month in Kenya to help them.
As time went by I realized this laughter was a coping mechanism. When bring the women aside and taking them to treatment they would cry and show the true damage these hideous acts were causing. The worst part was all I could do was bring the women to treatment. The women told me raping your wife in Kenya is not illegal and even if it was it is not enforced.
After bring the women to treatment and making sure she was healthy I decided to teach the women some exercise and a little self-defense moves. If the law couldn’t protect them then I was going to teach them how to protect themselves. It was amazing the way the women valued these times. The exercise and self-defense gave them confidence. Soon, they were pretending to attack one another and laughing at each other weakness as they tried to do push-ups.
Exercising was a fun 15 minutes out of the day. Every other minute was spent trying to make money to put food on the table for the night. All the women sat around working on their “special power.” Some women did amazing bead work while other were good at making scarfs. The women were in and out of the shop all day. Many had to look for other ways to make money because their jewelry was not selling.
The reason the jewelry was not selling was not because of the way it looked, but because of the location of the store. Many tourist do not wander into Kibera and many people in Kibera do not have the extra cash to be buying jewelry etc. Now that I am home I am hoping to help the women sell some of the stuff they make. I am reaching out to local stores and may have a jewelry party and see if that takes off. Most of the stuff would be under $20 dollars which I think people would be more willing to buy and come to the party. Maybe if the jewelry party goes well I can start offering other to have their own jewelry party were they can make a little profit and send the rest back to the women. I think this would be a great way to reach out to more people.
Not only do the women want to make money off the products they sell, but they want to spread the world about empowering young women and stopping HIV/AIDS stigma. Therefore I want to ensure their message is spread when having these jewelry parties. I think it would be amazing to have a describing of the women attached to what they make. This is going to be difficult being this far away but I believe we can pull it off. I also asked the women to design a bracelet that specifically stands for the Power Women group. Then when people come to the store and want to represent their cause they can buy a bracelet. I have so many ideas I just wish it was easier to communicate with the women. I am able to email one of the women and hear back every couple days. But, it would be so much easier to meet face to face. Also, with the cultural difference sometime it is hard to be on the same page. But, I believe with some work and dedication the Power Women Group can turn into a worldwide inspiration to all.