In Kenya’s Migori county, the HIV rate is 2.7x higher than the national average and disproportionately affects women in the community. When HIV strikes low-income families, the difficulties of getting ahead are exacerbated, and lacking sufficient amounts of food, their health deteriorates further.
Elizabeth Auma lives in Migori County and is the chairperson of the Nyang’au Village Enterprise business savings group. Each of our savings groups consists of 30 new entrepreneurs who meet weekly to save money together and serve as a vital network for support and encouragement. Living with HIV, Elizabeth personally relates to the challenges the virus brings. Instead of losing hope, she rose to a leadership role, and her group became a symbol of resilience.
This is the Nyang’au business savings group’s story, as shared by Elizabeth.
HIV is a lonely disease. Nobody wants to be associated with someone from the HIV/AIDs community, nor do they expect us to survive from this virus. Most people don’t understand how important food is when you depend on manual labor to provide for your family, and it is even more critical when taking medicine for HIV.
The only organizations that targeted individuals living with HIV were health support groups or government programs. Their focus was solely on community access to antiretroviral drugs yet disregarding the importance of sustainable solutions that further empower HIV-positive groups. In particular, many of these organizations fail to look at how lack of food, a byproduct of living in poverty, increases severe antiretroviral medication side effects. It was only when we were introduced to Village Enterprise that we saw an organization that looked beyond survival, focusing on long-term quality of life for HIV-positive individuals and their families.
I joined the Village Enterprise program in January 2018. We were trained on nine modules covering topics such as saving with a purpose, financial literacy, business diversification, among others. During training, the business mentors emphasized that each business should consist of three people to minimize risk. We were encouraged to pick co-business owners whose skill sets would add the most value to our enterprises. For example, I am a natural leader, so I took on the role of chairperson, whereas one of my co-business owners is exceptional with numbers, so she keeps track of our business finances. We were then grouped with ten other business groups to form a business savings group that serves as a space for support, encouragement, and informal banking.
In February 2018, I joined the Nyang’au business savings group along with 29 first-time entrepreneurs. In the beginning, we started by saving only a few hundred shillings each week. As time went on, each enterprise became more profitable, enabling us to contribute increased savings to our savings group cash reserve. Although we ‘graduated’ from the Village Enterprise program in 2019, our group continues to thrive. By the end of January 2021, our cumulative savings plus interest totaled 410,000 shillings (USD 3,600).
Today, our group is highly respected. Known for our disciplined method of savings and loan assistance, other community members notice our success and ask for our advice. Even Village Enterprise business mentors have commended our success, frequently calling on our group to attend training sessions for newly formed business savings groups in our county to share lessons on best practices.
From my business profits, I was able to buy a female sheep —a sign of wealth in our community that typically only men can afford. I never thought I would be able to provide for my family, let alone own livestock. Owning livestock is an investment in the future, as sheep usually give birth twice per year. Just that one sheep changed my family’s life. Whenever there is an emergency in my family, I know that I can financially address the situation by selling one lamb. I feel calm knowing that none of my children will lack clothes or school fees.
I am proud to belong to the Nyang’au business savings group. We have demonstrated that living with HIV is not a death sentence and that you can start a successful business despite living with an HIV-positive diagnosis. Without this group, we would not have this much community respect, dream this big, nor could we provide so many things for our families.
Elizabeth’s story was initially told in the language of Luo. We have translated the story into English with minor grammatical edits.
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