Written by Peggy Taillon, President and Founder, HERA Mission
Today, on World Tuberculosis Day only, an estimated 28,500 people have contracted TB. In fact, everyday there are almost 30,000 new cases of tuberculosis in the country. In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.6 million died from the disease worldwide.
It’s truly inconceivable that as we near 2020, people are still dying of conditions that are completely treatable. TB and Malaria are so common in parts of the world, there’s almost a guarantee that you will have them multiple times in your life. Couple one or both with HIV, and chances of survival is doubtful.
While these conditions strike fear through western society, they are part of the lived reality for communities living in poverty. All too common, diseases that have been all but eradicated in western society thrive in the petri dish of daily rationing for food, stagnant water, extreme shifts in climate and widespread insecurity, virtually all linked to deep, stubborn poverty.
It’s humbling to consider the sheer determination and resilience that communities impacted by these conditions rise above everyday. It is something we are honored to witness through our efforts in Kenya with HERA Mission.
Founded 12 years ago to honour my son’s culture and heritage, HERA aims to make positive impacts for the orphaned children and women affected by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Asembo Bay, Kenya. Meaning “love” in the tribal language of Luo, HERA is also my adopted son Devlin’s middle name and has been for me a great mechanism to keep him connected to his country and birth family.
At HERA, we partner with Asembo Bay Women for Development (ABWD) who is leading development projects in areas of education, healthcare, agriculture, and women-led business and sport to rebuild a community ravaged by poverty, TB, HIV and malaria. Our projects are touching the lives of 100s of widows, grandmas and great-grandmas and supporting over 300 orphaned children. At times the weight of it all is heavy, but then we remember that it is a privilege and honour to find a life’s mission and to be part of such a special community.
The timing of our efforts in Asembo Bay has coincided with global advances in the understanding and treatment of these conditions. International, governments, NGOs and local health providers came together in a global effort to focus knowledge, resources and action in a manner never seen before, these efforts have virtually supercharged what we can accomplish on the ground.
Access to drugs to combat HIV, TB and malaria are free and ubiquitous today in Kenya. Modern facilities and interventions have become common and the heavy weight that has been pressing down on millions of lives, stealing their potential, robbing them of prosperity is slowly lifting. Challenges remain despite these major shifts forward. Antiretrovirals and other interventions may be free, but when you’re living in deep poverty you still require the means to access the drugs and eat regular meals for the interventions to be most effective.
HERA and ABWD are small and by virtue must be practical. Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to make the greatest impact with our limited resources in the most culturally appropriate manner? That’s why we focus on the following:
- education to reduce new infections
- improving infrastructure in the community to ensure access to clean water and self-sustaining access to food
- ensuring timely access to treatment
And we learn, constantly, from success and from failure. We adapt when needed and we scale when approaches are working. That’s how we’ve managed to establish a strong infrastructure: we trained community outreach workers to reach out to the most vulnerable; we have established a computer centre, shared crop farming, chicken co-ops, education sponsorship programs and financial literacy programs.
12 years later we are still there, learning and adapting with hope and optimism. Years ago, the community had multiple funerals every weekend, an entire generation was wiped out due to these preventable diseases, all the community did was come together and mourn.
Today, the community gathers, but for different reasons: feeding days, weekly meetings of women business leaders, planning committees; they meet to talk about savings and investments, their children’s education or simply to laugh and share. Life moves forward – we lift as we rise together.
HERA’s story is only one example of many successes. So many more organizations like this one are working hard to help lift communities out of poverty and making sure they are healthy. And the Global Fund is a big support for organizations like HERA and ABWD. But the work isn’t done!