Dispatch From Kenya: The Children Behind Project Weathers Kenya Crisis

Jerusha Ouma, CRS Kenya project officer for The Children Behind project, received the update below from partners working with CRS to assist 19,000 orphans affected by the HIV pandemic and other vulnerable children.

For the residents of Migori district in western Kenya, life has radically changed since the announcement of the disputed results from the presidential election held on Dec. 27, 2007. The violent reactions of people, especially the youth, led to substantial destruction of property and loss of life. The youths barricaded the roads and burned down property belonging to people from other ethnic groups. Almost everything came to a standstill in the community.

Those who bore the brunt of the crisis included people living with HIV as well as orphans and vulnerable children. Due to inaccessible roads and the ongoing violence, people living with HIV could not access health facilities to collect their antiretroviral medications. They also couldn’t travel safely to collect food supplements provided by CRS through The Children Behind (TCB) project, a privately funded CRS initiative that provides care and support to 19,000 orphans and vulnerable children as well as their caretakers in Nyanza province.

Partner staff on the ground had to quickly come up with ways to ensure that HIV-positive project participants wouldn’t miss any of their prescribed drug dosages. Using cell phones, partner staff quickly mobilized the project’s network of community volunteers. These dedicated volunteers were asked to head out to surrounding villages to collect treatment cards from clients on antiretroviral therapy, to use the cards to pick up the drugs from area health facilities and to then return to the village to deliver the drugs to respective clients.

Using bicycles as the only mode of transport, the volunteers rode up to 20 kilometers roundtrip along small village paths to avoid the main roads blocked by rowdy youth. Volunteers used the same means to also distribute food and provide other psychosocial services to project clients. This cadre of good Samaritans demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to service by risking their own lives to ensure that clients had the medications and food they needed for survival.

“I was so scared of the rioting group youths. I could not walk to hospital to get my drugs,” said one ART client named Mary. “Thanks to the TCB volunteers who worked hard to ensure I did not miss out on the drugs. I am praying that the political problems in our country will soon be solved so that we continue to live in harmony like before.”

Children were also not spared during the crisis. They missed school for three weeks due to insecurity reasons. In one village in the Karungu area, three orphans supported by the project were also beaten up when police broke into their house searching for rioters who had just escaped from the nearby shopping center. When project staff heard of the incident, they rushed to their rescue and took them to the nearby St. Camillus hospital. The children have since been discharged and are well.

Now the situation has improved and calm has returned in the villages. And thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers, project services continue.

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2 Responses to “Dispatch From Kenya: The Children Behind Project Weathers Kenya Crisis”

  1. Matt Says:

    That’s incredible. I’ve read on blogs and in the news that the peace corps has had to pack up and leave Kenya.

  2. Jerry Zurek Says:

    We at Cabrini College are very happy you have found ways to continue doing your important work, despite such obstacles. We hope that your country will return to peace and you will be better able to care for these children.

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