Sr. Florence Muia, Founder of Upendo Village, an HIV and AIDS project in Kenya.
A story By Agnes Aineah
NAKURU , 20 February, 2020 / 3:54 AM (ACI Africa).-
Love reigns at Upendo Village, a state-of-the-art facility where people living with HIV in low-end settlements around Naivasha in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Nakuru (CDN) have found hope for nearly two decades – Upendo is a Swahili word for love.
In a meeting room located at this facility that sits on three acres of land, 100 kilometers northwest of the country’s capital, Nairobi, about 50 men and women are gathered for their monthly support group meeting. Here, they share their coping experiences.
On Thursdays when they meet, they sing and pray, share a meal and empower each other economically before they disperse to their respective homes, each weighed down by a heavy sack of maize, beans, flour, cooking oil and other foodstuffs distributed at the facility.
The women’s angelic voices and ululations as they sing, “Even when it is dark, know that there is light”, rise above every other voice at the busy facility that also houses a dispensary, a water factory and a model farm with dairy goats and chicken.
And stamping their feet on the ground as they clap their hands, the men join in the chorus, “Therefore brace yourself and don’t give up, brace yourself and don’t give up”, which they sing repeatedly.
Each one of the 50 men and women can relate their life experiences to the message in this song.
At the end of their singing, they emotionally narrate how, more than 10 years ago, they thought they were sentenced to die on the doctor’s proclamation that they were infected with HIV.
The men and women narrate how they found hope to live again after Sr. Florence Muia, a Kenyan Catholic nun, came to them, washed their frail frames, fed them and told them about God’s unconditional love.
“Sister found me lying alone on a mat in my single room where I had been abandoned. My CD4 count was only 2. I was dying,” says Margaret, one of the oldest members of the support group formed in 2003.
In medical terms, CD4 count is a blood test to check the amount of CD4 cells in the body. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that play a key role in the body’s immune system.
According to healthonline.com, when a person is living with HIV, the virus attacks the CD4 cells in the blood, making it difficult for the body to fight infections. A healthy immune system normally has a CD4 count ranging from 500 to 1,600 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
When a CD4 count is lower than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, a person will receive a diagnosis of AIDS. At this stage, the body’s immune system is weak due to the low number of CD4 cells available to fight disease.
At a CD4 count of only 2 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, Margaret was in a critical condition. She had long been fired from her well-paying secretarial job and left to fend for herself by her family when some family members learnt that she was diagnosed with the “monster disease”.
Sr. Florence Muia of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) recalls the dark days of HIV in Kenya when infected people faced the highest degree of stigma.
“Before the president declared HIV a national disaster, around 1999, there was a lot of ignorance about the condition. There was a lot of denial for people who were infected and they faced rejection from people who were close to them,” says Sr. Florence.
She adds, “People had many names for HIV and AIDS. They called it “animal”, “monster”, others referred to it as “slim” because of how infected people looked wasted. They thought the disease was contagious and so they locked infected people away in tiny houses and left them there to die.”
The Kenyan-born Catholic nun recounts, while working as a probation officer under the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Heritage at Nakuru Girls Probation Hostel, Kitui District and in Naivasha District around flower plantations in Naivasha in the 1990s, how people who worked menial jobs on the plantations and in flower factories were kicked from their jobs when their employers learnt that they were infected.
Sr. Florence was the first nun in Kenya to serve as a probation officer, a position she held from 1990 to 1998.
Others, according to the Catholic nun, simply couldn’t work because they were very sick.
Those infected were secluded even in death. “When those infected with HIV died, they were buried by well-wishers in polythene bags. People feared being infected by getting in contact with the corpses,” says Sr. Florence, adding that over 700 deaths were reported every day nationally.
This was long before then President Daniel Moi declared the condition a national disaster, calling the rapidly spreading disease a threat to the country’s “very existence.”
Unfortunately, by the time the President made the remarks, in November 1999, the disease had killed 760,000 Kenyans who were unable to access medication.
But long before the announcement, the ASN nun, who had, for years, seen the struggles of people with HIV were going through in their deprived backgrounds, and who was now a student in the United States, was working behind the scenes to push for an HIV/AIDS initiative in the U.S. that would later see the United Nations give HIV drugs for free to people in developing countries.
The Catholic nun narrates how she animatedly lobbied for support of a bill that then Congressman Henry Hyde, U.S House of Representative from Illinois introduced in parliament to fund HIV treatment in these countries, Kenya being one of them.
“I worked with a strong lobbying group in Wheaton to rally for support of a bill that Congressman Hyde introduced in government to fund HIV treatment. I met the Congressman in 2003 and he asked me to report back to him on the success of the initiative,” she recalls, adding that the following year, she met the Secretary of the Congressman again after the price of HIV drugs was subsidized.
And long before she jetted back to Africa, with a firm decision to provide care to the patients who were labelled society rejects, Sr. Florence had attended numerous global conferences on HIV/AIDs and she was convinced that the patients had better living conditions in other countries.
“I attended so many conferences that were focused on HIV while I studied in the U.S. and I listened to speeches from all over the world. The reports that were given in these speeches pointed to immense support of HIV patients in these countries. It was a sharp contrast to what I saw in my own country where there was a lot of ignorance, stigma and lack of medication for the HIV patients,” says Sr. Florence.
She adds, “I think this is when I felt a nudging in my heart to do something for my brothers and sisters in Kenya who were in dire need of love and care.”
What followed were years of blood, sweat and tears for the nun who had been raised in a humble background and introduced to Church by a prayerful grandmother and with the support of an unbaptized mother.
The story of Sr. Florence who battled all odds in a humble background to establish a state-of-the-art facility for HIV patients is a story of immense struggle just as it is a source of hope to thousands of HIV patients from deprived backgrounds in Naivasha, a town in Kenya’s Nakuru diocese.
Born in 1957 in a family of nine children where she is the fifth born, little Florence Muia went through the challenges that are typical to any young girl in a village. It was a humble family where her mother was a dedicated housewife while her father worked menial jobs at Kenya Railways in the country’s capital city, Nairobi.
“We were quite poor. In fact, my three elder sisters only went as far as primary school. This was all my mother who was a peasant farmer in the village could afford to pay for,” recalls Sr. Florence, adding that she repeated Class Seven two times to allow for her elder siblings to be admitted in secondary school.
She would later enroll herself into a high school where she walked 16 kilometers to and from school every day. At one point, she dropped out of school because of lack of school fees but returned, 10 years later, to quench her undying thirst for education.
It was Sr. Florence’s ageing grandmother who introduced her to the Catholic faith when she was a Class Five girl, a time that little Florence Muia also started mingling with nuns at the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Africa who worked at Kanzalu Catholic Church, then a Parish within the Catholic Diocese of Machakos in Kenya.
“My mother hardly ever went to Church. I guess she just had a lot to do taking care of us. Even then, she wasn’t baptized and so, my grandmother stepped in to introduce us to the Church. I followed her to all prayer groups in the village,” narrates Sr. Florence.
The young Florence Muia would later enroll for Catechism classes and got baptized while she was still in Primary School, receiving her First Holy Communion.
She explains, “I worked for my own faith. I was never baptized as an infant. I attended Catechism classes and got baptized when I was 15 years old.”
The first time she expressed her desire to become a religious sister, her mother was reproachful. She shelved the idea. She tried again after she completed her Form Two. Her mother who had been baptized aged 40 was now more approachable. She had just gotten an acceptance letter from ASN. Her desire to lead a religious life had already been cemented in her life and there was no turning back.
“When I was young, I used to say that when I grow up, I want to be a nun or to work in a community. I was touched by the humility of the nuns that worked in our schools and in our parish. That’s why I later developed an interest in social work. To be able to impact lives of the less privileged,” she recounts, adding that she joined ASN for formation in January 1976 and had her first profession on December 27, 1978.
Her first appointment in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Kitui was at Kitui School for the Deaf where she served in the boarding section for the hearing impaired. She then went back to school, ten years later, where she beat all odds, including sitting in class with much younger students, to score a Second Division, which is equivalent to a B Plus in her final examinations. Sr. Muia was 28 years old when she accepted a position in Form Three at Mbooni Girls High School.
She had work stints as a Probation officer under the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Heritage as it was referred to at the time before enrolling for a degree at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) where she graduated in 1996 with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology, managing First Class honors.
It was also while working at Maria Goretti Girls Hostel in Thika, that the Kenyan nun interacted with Pope John Paul II on the Pontiff’s second visit to Kenya in 1985 during the 43rd International Eucharistic Congress held in Nairobi where she served as the Pope’s Sacristan.
During the Papal visit, Sr. Florence led a team of other nuns in preparing the altar during the Eucharistic celebrations at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park and Nyayo Stadium. She was also the chief sacristan of the Pope the entire period.
Sr. Florence worked for another two years before she won a scholarship to study Pastoral Counselling, a Master’s program at a Jesuit University in the United States, a time that she started attending conferences on HIV/AIDS and graduated in 2001 with a mission to start a programme for the care of infected people in Kenya.
“While studying in the U.S., I made numerous visits back home and kept visiting HIV patients. So, when I came back and started the programme, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do,” she recalls.
In 2002, when Sr. Florence approached then CDN Bishop Peter Kairo, now Archbishop Emeritus, she already had the name of the facility in mind. It would be named Upendo Village, a sanctuary for people living with HIV/AIDS who had been secluded by society.
“I wanted all of them (HIV/AIDs patients) to have a feel of God’s unconditional love. They had been abandoned and those who had pity on them threw food to them, not daring to come close to them. I wanted to reach close to them and to make them feel they were loved,” Sr. Florence explains.
It was Bishop Kairo who gave her three acres of land from eight acres that had been set aside for building a school in Naivasha.
Upendo Village had a humble beginning in two dilapidated classrooms that had once been a nursery school. Sr. Florence’s task, with support of Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, a congregation of religious sisters in the U.S. that supported HIV/AIDs initiative, was to renovate the classrooms and to convert them into the HIV facility.
The group has recorded an impact of 13,508 individuals including HIV infected people and individuals in a number of vulnerable groups.
“He (Kairo) was very passionate about the idea of building a facility for people who lived with HIV. He told me it was a huge outcry that needed to be heard,” the Kenyan nun recalls.
Her first initiative was a community outreach programme where the nun, armed with a donated car, carried porridge and warm water in thermos flasks, which she took to the patients in their homes.
“I would dry bathe them, feed them on the porridge and talk about God’s love. Some wondered why I was not scared of them. Then they slowly started opening up to me,” she recounts, adding, “Slowly, I started encouraging them to go to hospitals for treatment.”
As the days went by, members of Small Christian Communities in the diocese and volunteers from other denominations who were moved by Sr. Florence’s acts of kindness joined the outreach program.
And in 2003, she held her first training that attracted 30 volunteer health workers. The ASN nun however, notes, “Most of them (volunteers) dropped from the programme when they realized that I didn’t have any money to pay them.”
In 2004, Upendo Village got a nurse.
“We would go around with the nurse, carrying medication to treat the patients’ opportunistic infections that were as a result of the virus and fixing drips in little dark rooms that housed the patients,” she recalls.
From one nurse, the facility has grown into a fully staffed dispensary that has a pharmacy, a dental department, a lab section, a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) center and other departments that are open to the public, including people who aren’t infected with HIV/AIDS.
Apart from the dispensary, there is a water project where the community makes and sells purified water, a water treatment plant and a model farm where members of Upendo Village are taught how to rear chicken and goats for their economic stability.
The project runs a number of programmes including an education programme for vulnerable children, a nutrition programme, a grandmothers’ projects for elderly women who take care of orphaned children and a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT) unit for HIV positive mothers aimed at ensuring they don’t infect their children during breastfeeding.
As per records updated on January 20, Upendo Village has recorded an impact of 13,508 individuals including HIV infected people and individuals in a number of vulnerable groups.
The project has impacted 3,549 men, women and children living with HIV. These include 2,387 women, 795 men and 367 children born with the virus.
The outreach programme has also helped 6,892 orphan vulnerable children whose parents died from HIV/AIDS.
Among its key highlights was the grand opening of its state-of-the-art administration block and water plant, in 2014, by Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta.
Sr. Florence recently graduated from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology where she specialized in Peace and Conflict Studies for her PhD.
Look out for the second part of this story that will seek to tell the experiences of some of the beneficiaries of Upendo village of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi, the challenges as well as the opportunities of the Naivasha-based facility, in the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
The scenario is disturbed by as a spotless clean metallic grey car, which drives in and parks outside the falling house. The sole occupant comes out. A Catholic nun.
With a grey skirt suit, a marching head-scarf and dark shoes, the nun heads to the dilapidated house where she proceeds to clean and feed the ailing woman.
After what seems like eternity, Sister Florence Muia, unperturbed by the sight behind, heads back to her car to visit the next patient.
This time, she visits two orphans who are living with their aging granny and her entrance is greeted with shouts of joy.
Here she leaves behind special-nutritious flour for the use by one of the minors who are HIV positive.
On her way ‘home’, she passes through an Internally Displaced People’s camp where she drops some clothes and personal effects for the victims of the post-election violence.
Sister Florence, as popularly known, is a figure of hope to people infected with HIV and the sign of peace to hundreds of IDPs languishing in poverty.
A holder of a Masters degree in Pastoral Counselling, Sister Florence left a well paying government job to cater for the ailing and less fortunate members of the public.
She has literally borne their sufferings in effect making herself a ‘perpetual beggar’ for the sake of the over 3,000 HIV positive for whom hope for another day, depends entirely on her efforts.
“Many of my friends tried to discourage me wondering how anyone could quit a well-paying job for philanthropy. But in my mind, I knew I could make it,” she offers.
Out of sheer hard work, Muia managed to put up a multimillion state-of-the-art centre at Karai, Naivasha.
“Upendo Village is a project designed to respond to the needs of women and children living with HIV and Aids at the local level,” she says.
The project affords them immediate resources and support to improve their health, increase their lifespan and plan the future.
The calling to deal with victims of Aids hit her while she was doing her Masters at the Loyola University in the USA back in 1999.
“HIV and Aids was then declared a national disaster here in Kenya and figures came up and this touched me. I then decided to dedicate my life to assisting those infected and affected.”
A noble idea
A senior probation officer then, she resigned while in the US and started looking for funds and her congregation, the Assumption Sisters, backed her noble idea. She started with a temporary two-room facility in 2002 until the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru donated a three-acre piece of land, where she later built the complex.
Starting with one employee, she now has over 20 workers ranging from nurses to nutritionists, drivers and volunteers all in the name of assisting the poor.
The Village, with a reception, laboratory, examination room, several offices and staff quarters is a sign of determination and faith on her part. And Upendo Village, she says, is not a hospice where death is the final outcome!
The home runs five support groups in Mai Mahiu, Naivasha town and South Lake.
“We offer food supplements, therapy and ARVs to our patients every Thursday as we believe that another woman’s problem is our problem too,” she says.
Since they cannot afford to feed the families on a daily basis, the victims are given special Alpine goats, whose milk they use for its nutritious value. They are allowed to sell the surplus.
The beneficiaries have also started income-generating projects like ornaments whose proceeds are shared among them. Other projects include bee keeping, chicken rearing and making baskets using polythene.
“We have also assisted orphans go to school as I believe that education is power and we cannot just target treatment.”
For her, seeing HIV positive families feed themselves is a reason to smile and seek for more support to assist many others.
She blames the current Aids status and high levels of new infections on poverty, which has led to promiscuity and thus the spread of the disease.
Upendo Village is not self-sustaining and relies on donations. DT Dobie and Panda Flowers have been very generous to the home. Every year, doctors and nurses from the Catholic Diocese of Joliet in the USA, fly in to offer free medical services.
“We do get surgeons, dentists and many other medical specialists and at the end of their stay, they donate medical equipment to the Naivasha District Hospital,”
During the post-election violence that rocked Naivasha, Sister Florence, through the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission was at the forefront to assist those affected.
“The sad thing is that one year down the line, the IDPs are suffering in camps as our politicians steal and make merry.”
The humble soft-spoken nun, has risen from the barefooted girl born 52 years ago, in Kawauni Village in Kangundo. A fifth born in a family of nine, life was hard as her parents tried to make ends meet.
“After completing Standard Seven, my parents, who depended on farming could not make it and I had to personally go school hunting,” she recalls.
In 1974, she was admitted at Manyatta Secondary School where she covered a distance of 20km to and fro.
Eager to learn and prosper in life, young Florence is full of gratitude to her mother who always met her halfway the road from school as she always reached home late at night.
After two years of suffering, endurance, hard work and prayers, she left school and joined the Assumptions Sisters.
“But knowing the importance of education, I promised myself to go back to school later in life.” And she did 10 years later, in 1986.
“Despite my age, I was admitted at Mbooni Secondary School in Form Three.”
She worked hard and completed form four with Second Division and was admitted at the Kenya Institute of Administration for a Diploma in Social Work in 1990. It was after this that she got a job as a probation officer in government.
“This was a proud moment for me as I became the first ever nun to hold the position.”
From then on, she worked in Nakuru and Kitui mainly with minors up to 1994 before she joined the Catholic University of Eastern Africa for a BA in Sociology and Anthropology.
After graduation, she went back to her former job but only shortly as she soon left for her Masters at Loyola, USA between 1999 and 2001.
For her service to the less fortunate, Sister Florence has received various awards from various organisations and learning institutions. Among the awards are the Damen Award (Loyola University) 2007, the 1,000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize, 2005, and the Paul Harris Fellow Award (Rotary foundation), 2004.
The recognition gives her more impetus to serve the less fortunate, and there is no stopping where saving lives and souls is concerned.
“I believe that every single life is worth living,” she ends. AStory by Antony Gitonga on 21st Feb 2009 00:00:00 GMT +0300 https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/1144007131/a-nun-sent-from-heaven
Success Story of Patricia
Agnes and Carrey are dedicated and devoted members of Karai support group and they joined the support group in 2009. Agnes is 43 years of age and Carrey is 68 years old. The couple .
Success Story of Carrey Mbugua and Agnes Mbugua
Applied for an interest-free loan of Kshs 10,000.00 so as to boost their savings and begin a project of growing vegetables for commercial purpose. The request was granted and on May 2012 and they .
Success Story of Peter Chege and Sabina Chege
Success Story of Teresia Wangui Njoroge Teresia Wangui Njoroge is aged 65 years and is an active member of the Town Grandmothers’ Support Group which she joined in 2011. She lives with her (2) .
Success Story of Teresia Wangui Njoroge
Esther is a grandma who is 53 years old and stays with her 5 grandchildren whose mother went missing after knowing her HIV&AIDS status. In 2011, she applied for an interest-free loan and she .
Success Story of Esther Wanjiku
I Owe Catholic Nuns, Entire Upendo Village My Life, Testimony by Kenyan Man Born with HIV
NAIVASHA , 25 February, 2020 / 6:33 PM (ACI Africa).- A Story by By Agnes Aineah of ACI Africa
Sr. Florence Muia, a member of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN), recalls a day, in 2004, when she sat with a group of people that lived with HIV under a tree in Naivasha in the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, just under 100 kilometers northwest of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi.
From the entrance to the church compound, before Upendo Village was established, a barefoot elderly woman approached carrying a sickly 5-year-old boy on her back. At her side, an equally frail 14-year-old boy who had rashes all over his body trudged along.
The two were brothers and their parents had just succumbed to AIDS, leaving the two HIV infected boys under the care of their grandmother. 14-year-old Victor (not his real name) had long dropped out of school because he was always down with opportunistic infections. His younger brother was also too sick to go to school.
“The boys looked emaciated and they had very swollen lymph nodes. Victor looked like a 7-year old because he was very sick,” Sr. Florence says in an interview with ACI Africa, a continuation of the interview at the Upendo Village that was published last Thursday, February 20.
The nun adds, “The image of a worn-out grandmother with her two sickly grandsons has been engraved in my mind to date.”
On being treated at the facility’s clinic, the two boys were taken to school and put on a feeding programme at the Centre that saw their health improve immensely.
Today, Victor is among the 354 children who have gone through the Upendo Village Education program that seeks to empower orphans and vulnerable children.
The 31-year-old resident of Kayole Village in Naivasha is also a married father of two HIV negative children. Unfortunately, Victor’s younger brother got sick and died in 2009.
A graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Naivasha Technical College, Victor expresses gratitude to Upendo Village where he says he got a second chance in life, when family members had ruled that he wouldn’t see his teen years.
“Some family members didn’t want anything to do with us after our parents died and left us very sick. They said we wouldn’t survive past our childhood,” says Victor, adding, “No one knew that I would become an adult, get an education and even get married. But now I am a father of two children. I owe Sr. Florence and the entire Upendo community my life.”
Many other people who have been through Upendo Village projects have a similar story to that of Victor. The likes of 22-year-old Caroline Wanjiru, whose father, living with HIV, has been going to Upendo Village since 2011.
“When my father learnt that he was infected with HIV, he joined Upendo Village because he was too weak to work. Then Sisters started paying school fees for us at home. Our father also learnt to accept his condition and even talked to us about it,” says Wanjiru who graduated with a degree in Business Administration in 2019 from Kenya’s Kiriri Women’s University of Science and Technology.
At Upendo Village, four ASN sisters and a staff of over 30 members including hospital workers and community volunteers run educational, nutritional, health and economic empowerment programmes that target people infected or affected with HIV.
There is an education programme for vulnerable children, a nutrition programme, a grandmothers’ project for elderly women who take care of orphaned children and a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT) for HIV positive mothers aimed at ensuring they do not infect their children during breastfeeding.
As per records updated on January 20, Upendo Village has recorded an impact of 13,508 individuals including HIV infected individuals and people close to them.
The project has impacted 3,549 men, women and children living with HIV. These include 2,387 women, 795 men and 367 children born with the virus. The outreach programme has also helped 6,892 orphan vulnerable children whose parents died from AIDS.
In a myriad of income generating activities for people infected or affected with HIV, the project has so far empowered 605 individuals with dairy goats while 739 people were given improved chicken to rear. Some 40 households have been given beehives to practice bee-farming in areas around Naivasha while 60 people have been trained in crafts to make mats, bags and other artistry for sale.
Also working on the project, teaming up with Sr. Florence, are other ASN including Sr. Agnes Wanja, Sr. Agnes Waema and Sr. Elizabeth Mbogo.
Sr. Florence started the economic empowerment programme to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I have always been passionate about eradication of poverty because I know HIV is closely linked to poverty. A mother who can’t provide for her children is likely to engage in immoral acts just to survive,” the Kenyan nun says.
In the grandmothers’ project, the elderly women are given interest free loans that enable them set up and operate small businesses to earn a living. This is what has kept Teresia Wangui going, from the time that her daughter died many years ago, leaving behind an infected son.
“When my daughter died, no one from her husband’s family was willing to take the child that had been left behind because he was very sick. I took him and started visiting hospitals with him with (not) much help, until someone referred me to Sr. Florence,” recalls Wangui.
Recounting her encounter with the ASN nuns some 10 years ago, the 66-year-old Teresia Wangui narrates, “The sisters started giving us food and then gave me a dairy goat that gave us milk. The milk was so good on my grandson’s health and he improved significantly.”
Wangui also took the interest free loan and set up more than 10 makeshift grocery stalls from which she collected KSh1,200.00 (US$12.00) every day.
The elderly woman has been saving since then and recently, she constructed permanent stalls and shops that she is renting out.
Upendo Village is a community of support groups including four groups for HIV positive men and women, two support groups for grandmothers taking care of children whose parents succumbed to AIDS, one group for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT), one group for professionals and one group for discordant couples.
Finally, there are two support groups for HIV positive teenagers and children.
“As HIV positive teenagers discover themselves and try to forge relationships with uninfected people, they face rejection and many other challenges. Actually, without support, this is a group that is most likely to go into depression,” observes Sr. Florence.
Today, Upendo Village which had a humble start in two dilapidated classrooms, sometime in 2003, stands as a formidable force in empowering people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, having won the support of the community where the facility operates.
“We have been embraced totally by the community. Most of our funding comes from the flower firms around us and many local donors who have chosen to sponsor a child or two through school,” she says, adding that DT Dobie, the motor-vehicle company has been mobilizing its staff since 2005 to pay school fees for vulnerable children at the Centre.
Sr. Florence who recently graduated from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology where she specialized in Peace and Conflict Studies for her PhD notes that though the situation of people living with HIV has improved in Kenya, a lot needs to be done to prevent new infections.
“Compared to the ‘90s when there was a lot of ignorance and stigma around HIV, I must confess that we are in a better place now. But the war isn’t over yet,” she says, adding, “We must continue to create awareness on the condition to prevent new infections especially among the youth. These days, people are no longer afraid of HIV because it doesn’t show on the face.”
Sr. Florence adds, “We need to educate the youth on moral behavior change. There is a growing false impression that AIDS is no more.”
All the gains notwithstanding, Upendo Village grapples with lack of resources, dependency syndrome that people living with AIDS have developed over the years and a growing donor fatigue that leaves the initiative with nowhere to run to for financial support.
“In fact, we stopped going for mission appeals abroad when we started sensing donor fatigue. With charity organizations, donors get to a point where they feel that they can’t do it anymore. Now we rely heavily on our own income generating projects and support from local donors,” the nun says.
To address the dependency syndrome, Upendo Village has started an exit strategy where older women who have risen to their feet are allowed out to create room for other more deserving members.
The organization also continues to grapple with demanding government procedures and heavy taxes imposed on its projects. Sr. Florence appeals to the Kenyan government to exempt faith-based projects geared towards supplementing service provision from taxation.
“It beats me why the government heaves taxes on our dispensary when we are providing complementary health services in this country. The government should consider exempting church organizations from such taxes,” she says.
Amid these challenges, Sr. Florence says she finds the strength to soldier on from prayer and “daily nourishment from the sacrament of Eucharist.”
“It is all about my faith. I want to help people to know that God lives and that He is a God of love. When I see people from very poor backgrounds get an education and people who were dying live for more than 15 years, I get the strength to soldier on in this course,” Sr. Florence says