Friday, May 21, 2010
Our next stop was one of the WEEP projects.
WEEP stands for Women’s Equality Empowerment Program, and was one of Vickie’s first ventures in Kenya. When the AIDS crisis first began gripping Kenya, as well as the rest of the world, after people were diagnosed they often times just went to bed to die, believing that there was no treatment for them. In Africa in 2006, this was still pretty common, especially among women.
So often, when a Kenyan woman tests positive for HIV, if her husband is still in the picture, he will abandon her at that point. Even though he is the most likely suspect as the one who brought the disease into the home. Kenya is still very much a male-dominated country. If something goes wrong in the family, it is the woman’s fault, never the man’s.
Most of these women have small children to care for, but when they go to bed to die, the children have no one to watch over them, and they often end up as street children. It is incredible to hear, but that is what happens. Through programs like WEEP, these women are getting a chance to work and earn an income which all by itself helps them maintain their health and keeps their children at home with them. WEEP also helps to supply them with the antiviral meds they need to live.
The first project which Vickie started for the WEEP women was making bed nets. Up to 36% of children born in Kenya will die from malaria before their first birthday. Malaria is so prevalent in Africa but is such a preventable disease.
Malaria is caused by a parasite and passed from person to person by the bite of a mosquito. Anyone living in northern Wisconsin knows that mosquitoes come out in droves after dark and that they are attracted to stagnant water. Thus we know to stay inside from dusk until dawn unless we are covered in clothing or bug spray and avoid those swampy areas that mosquitoes love. Unfortunately, many Africans don’t know even these simple facts.
The number one activity that has proven most effective in Kenya and other tropical countries, the one item we just don’t routinely see back home, is the use of bed nets. Since they don’t have screens on their windows, and often don’t even have doors, there is no way to keep those nasty mosquitoes out of the house. The only way to keep them from getting to you is by having a net around your bed.
The WEEP program pays these women to sew bed nets which are then given to neighborhood children. The income provides these mothers with a way to support their own children, while giving other children in the community a chance to avoid catching malaria. Various charitable organizations as well as individuals are able to make tax-deductible donations toward the purchase of the bed nets.