Since the earliest days of the Yellowmen, there have been programmes in place to support those suffering from HIV or AIDS. As early as 2002, a meeting was held in Marich at which a local woman, herself suffering from HIV, brought with her a small group of HIV women to request support. On the whole these were women infected by husbands who had subsequently succumbed to the illness, leaving them widows. In order to have access to anti-retroviral medicines the women had to spend the equivalent of £16 each month. But with a daily wage of less than 13p, these medicines were totally out of reach. ‘What’, asked one women ‘will happen to my children if I cannot work or if I die?’
Each woman described her life, the deprivation, and the pain that wracked her exhausted body as she laboured in the fields just to put food on the table. No hand-outs here, no social service to rely on, and no family to fall back on. As one women described the loss of her husband and three children to HIV, hugging her 6 year old daughter as she spoke, tears coursing down her face, I heard the sobbing behind me of one of the Yellowmen. The desperation of the situation was overwhelming.
It was decided that the Yellowmen could afford to pay the small sum of £16 a month to help this group of women. However, as time went on, more and more women came forward and soon the initial £16 rose to over £500 a month. We couldn’t afford to continue. Yet how could we tell these women and their children that we could no longer support them? This was not a theoretical problem. These were real people desperately crying out for help – if not for them, they pleaded, at least for their children.
It was a stressful time as we wondered how we would be able to continue with our support. But then President Kibaki was elected and overnight everything changed. One of the first things he decreed was that anyone who had a confirmed diagnosis of HIV would qualify for free treatment.
This galvanised us into action. A lorry was hired and all those we thought were HIV positive were taken to a verification clinic in the nearest town. Despite this being a sober occasion, there were smiles and laughter both on the way out and back. A week later we collected the paper work and registered the women with the hospital in Sigor. They now had free access to the much needed medicines.
From this point onwards, Yellowmen support was to provide food for HIV positive women and their families. For the anti-retroviral medicines to be most effective, a good diet was crucial. But rather than just giving a hand out, we wanted to help these women become independent and so set up three work groups.
Two groups joined together as one to grow maize. We rented a 4 acre plot of land with access to water and gave the women sufficient money to have the land ploughed and sown with seed, and to buy the necessary tools to enable them to look after the land during the growing season. At harvest time, the maize was collected, some seed sold to the Kenya Seed Company, and the remainder divided up amongst the workers. Some of the money was also shared out, the rest being invested for the following season.
A second group of women was given money to purchase beads with which to make Pokot jewellery. The jewellery is sold by the Yellowmen back at home and the resulting income shared amongst the bead team.
As time has gone on the three groups still remain, though 28 of the 29 women in the original group have since died. In the early days the worry was how to care for the children left behind when there was no extended family but now local coordinators arrange adoption.
Ten years ago we had several HIV orphans, who although not infected themselves, had no one to care for them. One such girl, Nancy, is pictured above with Pokot Yellowman Inke. To date, Nancy has been supported in her education by the Yellowmen team and in particular by one generous sponsor. However, as Nancy is about to enter secondary education in September 2019, we are now looking for more sponsors. We need 20 sponsors who are each willing to give £25 a year for 4 years to support Nancy. So far 12 people have pledged to help Nancy and we hope to find the rest soon. Nancy is a clever and conscientious student who deserves a bright future.
If you are interested in sponsoring Nancy or would like some more information please click the links on the contact page.