When Peer Educators from the SWHAP network in Kenya met Naomi Kimani, she had just been accepted into a college to study teacher education, but had no money to cater for the required fees.
This was in 2013 on World AIDS Day. The Peer Educators were visiting the Kenya Network of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (KENWA) Children’s Home to make donations as part of their yearly commemoration activities. Something about the 18-year-old’s positivity and zest for life inspired them. They learnt that she had been living at the orphanage since her parents and two siblings had died of AIDS related illnesses. Her grandfather had briefly looked after her. But as he was struggling with poverty and old age he had no option except to place her in the children’s home.
Thus, began a mobilisation exercise where the Peer Educators pooled their resources to organise stationery and books, and for the first semester fees to be paid. Naomi’s education was subsequently taken on by Atlas Copco Kenya, and on June 4 this year she graduated as a Teacher with a Diploma in Education.
Naomi explains what this intervention meant for her:
“I have been HIV positive since birth. My parents passed on when I was very young. When I learnt about my status, it was a bit disturbing but I later came to terms with it and decided that it would not be a limitation for me.
All through my life I have struggled to make my way up in the world despite my status. My relatives did not accept me because of my status. I became a child of the community. The community clothed me, fed me, gave me shelter and put me through school. And God was there to make sure that I never lacked anything.
Meeting the SWHAP Peer Educators was the best thing that happened to me, they came when I thought all hope was lost in attaining a career which I so passionately desired. They helped me continue with my studies and now I have graduated. I am now teaching mathematics, science and English at a school in Muranga County Kenya.”
In 2016, Sandvik Zimbabwe worked with Musasa Women’s Shelter to raise workplace awareness on gender and sexual harassment at its headquarters in Harare. Musasa is an organisation that provides sexual reproductive health and rights training, and relief for survivors of gender based violence (GBV) through counselling services, basic legal advice and temporary shelter.
Through this contact, Sandvik became aware of the problems faced by the women at the Shelter – the majority of whom were survivors of GBV. Lack of income was limiting the women’s ability to support their families. Sandvik knew that it was important to create access to economic activities in order to build self-reliance and reduce the women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV. Economic dependency is often cited as a major reason why survivors of GBV are compelled to return to abusive relationships. Furthermore, women who face intimate partner violence are at a 50% increased risk of acquiring HIV (UNAIDS).
As part of their women economic empowerment drive and community outreach, Sandvik partnered with Musasa, donating 16 sewing machines and some money for other tools and material. This paved the way for the centre’s inhabitants to start a tailoring project.
Since November last year, the project has fulfilled orders for over 1 200 t-shirts, made 700 dignity bags for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and manufactured baby sets that are sold wholesale to other retailers.
The project is an example of how companies, through workplace HIV and wellness programmes, can engage in meaningful ways with their communities.