At Blood:Water, our mission is to partner with African grassroots organizations to address both the water and HIV/AIDS crises. Even when we partner with an organization to address only water, for example, we concentrate our efforts in areas that intersect with a high burden of HIV/AIDS.
Late in 2015, one of our local Kenyan partners, Lwala Community Alliance, created a program combining water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) with HIV/AIDS care. They’re calling it HAWI, which not only stands for HIV/AIDS and WASH Integrated project, but also means “luck” in the local language.
The impact of the project can be seen in the lives of women like Mary. Mary was diagnosed with HIV and began experiencing symptoms including fever, weakness, and chronic illness. She was discouraged and fearful for her future.
However, she met with a community health worker from Lwala Community Alliance who was able to understand her fear and enroll her in the HAWI program. She learned about WASH, nutrition, and HIV management, and began attending support group meetings where she hears success stories from others who are living with HIV.
Through these services, Mary has not only come to understand how important clean water and nutrition are in managing the HIV virus, but has also overcome her fear of openly acknowledging her positive status. She feels empowered to encourage others to do the same, and has even counseled her husband to enroll in HAWI. She started a kitchen garden where she grows a variety of vegetables that keep her immune system strong and she no longer hides her HIV medicine in shame.
The beauty of this program is found in the way it works around stigma. Because of the great fear of rejection and isolation of people living with HIV in the community, many are hesitant to associate themselves with organizations that are recognized for providing HIV care and services. But because Lwala Community Alliance starts with services related to water and nutrition, for example, that fear is alleviated.
We celebrate that Mary gained the confidence to disclose her status to her family and neighbors, but her story is only one of many! Because Lwala Community Alliance provides many services, others are free to enroll in HIV care and treatment without ever having to disclose their status. And that means a generational impact of fewer AIDS-related deaths and fewer new HIV transmissions.