Nairobi, November 16, 2011. Today we visited Jane, a woman we’d met three years ago. A single mother of two, Jane is HIV positive and lives in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa located in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2006 she fell seriously ill and was so close to death that her parents sold her slum dwelling to pay for a coffin. Somehow, she survived. But she had nothing.
A USAID project (called HEART) which helps women like Jane, found her, got her on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), and started teaching her and 10 other women business enterprise skills. In 2010 Jane graduated from the program and set out to start her business.
“At first I learned from market women who were farther ahead of me,” Jane reminds us. Slowly, she was mentored and eventually started selling dried fish in quantities measured by an old coffee can, 20 cents worth.
Today, she is healthy and sells omena – small fish from Lake Victoria – wholesale to Kenya’s largest grocery store chain, Nakumatt. Managing impressive transactions, she’s now considering taking on a partner. Her two children are in good schools, the eldest in her first year of university studying, what else, commerce. Last month Jane bought a piece of land where she’ll eventually build a home for her family. As the chairperson of a women’s cooperative, Jane’s group is saving to buy a truck to better transport their fish to market 500 miles away in Nairobi.
The Jane we meet today is a successful working woman and an inspiration to other women who find themselves in the dark days of HIV. Speaking as a HEART alumnae, Jane inspired this year’s class of 34 small business graduates – women who are facing poverty, discrimination, and poor health, as Jane once did.
Jane is not defined by her HIV status. As we chat, her cell phone rings. “You don’t mind if I take this?” she asks politely. Of course not, we reply. After all, she has a business to run.
This blog can be found at : http://blog.usaid.gov/2011/11/kiberas-wonder-woman-jane-akinyi/