The NGO practices a holistic approach, providing services in the following areas: education and counseling; economic empowerment; peer support; girls’ vocational training; and an orphan program. Full-time staff positions include: a director; a program coordinator, who is responsible for human rights and HIV/ AIDS training activities; an assistant program coordinator/fundraiser; a credit officer/accountant; an administrator/secretary; two field officers, who are also involved in HIV/ AIDS training; two community mobilisers, former sex workers and Herstory members; a weaver; and a vocational training teacher. Additionally, the staff is supported by a seven-member board of directors, community volunteers, and occasional University interns.
Outreach to Vulnerable Women and Girl-children. Herstory reaches out to sex workers at brothels, bars, lodgings, and on Nairobi streets. Furthermore, members are recruited through the peer-led referral system. Individuals who want to become Herstory members complete an in-depth questionnaire and are interviewed by staff to obtain baseline data, including information on their HIV and disclosure status, and indicators of the push and pull factors that determine their being involved in, reducing, or exiting sex work. Herstory strategies to reduce or exit sex work include developing alternative business plans, managing micro-loans, and administering peer group support.
Seventy five percent of Herstory members have successfully exited the sex work industry. Members have started businesses of their choice and are financially stable, and as a result, earn more than they did as sex workers, have higher levels of self-esteem, are more successful at parenting, and are living life without the constant fear and risk of HIV infection. Moreover, those living with HIV have a better quality of life and a more positive outlook on life.
Herstory Centre has been working with female and girl-children sex workers for approximately 20 years. Thus, their credibility among this population and their ability to reach and mobilize members of the population is second to none. Herstory’s expertise and experience in the communities in which its members live along with its long-term service record have afforded it the opportunity to forge valuable partnerships on behalf of its members.
To help members reach self-reliance, Herstory regularly partners with an impressive array of government and non-governmental, public, private, and faith-based organizations. A partial list of active partners include: The National AIDS & STIs Control Programme (NASCOP); the National AIDS Control Council (NACC); the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Development Service; The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport; the Ministry of Medical Services; the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation; the University of Nairobi Centre for HIV Prevention and Research (UNCHIVPR); Kenya Network of Women and AIDS (KENWA); Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium (KANCO); National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK); Society of Women and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK); and Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK).
Current and past Herstory donors, in alphabetical order, include: Action AIDS Kenya; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dan Church AID (DCA); Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA); Ford Foundation; Hope for the African Child Initiative, Jamtland International Development Co-operation Agency (JIDCA); the National AIDS Control Council (NACC); and the Society of Women and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK). Additionally, Herstory’s work has been recognized by the Kenya National AIDS Control Council and the Kenya government provided funds to enroll 100 women.
Although Herstory has an impressive track record of partnering with donors and planning and managing HIV/AIDS activities, in recent years a large number of members suffering from AIDS has resulted in the organization prioritizing funds for these members’ care followed by ensuring the continuation of micro-loans and vocational training. As a result, limited funds have been available to train staff in two critical areas: enhancing their communication and advocacy skills and securing operational and programmatic funds. Training in these areas is necessary if Herstory is to be dually successful in obtaining funds and developing and implementing public information campaigns.
Filling the Health Care Gap. Approximately 15% of Kenya’s health budget comes from external sources. Internally, the government established several agencies to address HIV/AIDS’ effect on the country. In 1987 the Ministry of Health launched The National AIDS & STIs Control Programme (NASCOP) to lead the health sector response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to provide the necessary institutional, policy framework and guidelines. A dozen years later, 1999, after declaring AIDS a national disaster, the Kenyan government established the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) to coordinate stakeholders in their multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS. NACC provides policy and the strategic framework for mobilizing and coordinating resources for the prevention of HIV transmission and for the care and support of those infected and or affected by HIV/AIDS.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan III (KNASP) (2009/10 – 2012/13) reports that 7.4% of Kenyans between the ages of 15 and 63 (8.4% women; 5.4% men) are infected with HIV, and that as many of 4 out of 5 do not know their status. Moreover, Nairobi-based organizations that work with HIV/AIDS estimate that HIV infection rates among sex workers in different slum areas range between 20 and 80%. For female and girl-children sex workers, these figures shed light on the impracticality of methods put forward in the Mainstreaming Gender into the Kenya National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan 2000 – 2005, as most effective for HIV prevention: abstinence, faithfulness, and condom use. That is, abstinence and faithfulness are not viable options for single women and young girls with very little education and no means of income, who find themselves forced into sex work to feed themselves and their children. The combination of poverty and gender inequality places them in an extremely weak position in terms of negotiating safe sex practices.
Because most of Herstory’s members engage in sex work in order to provide for the livelihood of their children and themselves, it is not uncommon for them to choose to remain ignorant of their status; to conceal their positive status from the community, from friends, from their partner, and from close family members including their children; and or to continue practicing unsafe sex with customers.
Recognizing sex workers’ prominent role in Kenya’s HIV/ AIDS epidemic, in May 2008, the Ministry of Health’s NASCOP, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and the University of Nairobi/Manitoba Research Team, established a consultative stakeholder forum to coordinate the development of appropriate strategies that adequately respond to key factors and behaviours that fuel the epidemic among sex workers. Forum participants included: the Nairobi Police; the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); the Kenya Bar Hostess AIDS Programme; the Kenya AIDS NGO’s Consortium; Family Health International; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); the University of Nairobi Centre for HIV Prevention and Research; and Herstory. During this forum, Dr. Ngugi chaired a sub-committee charged with developing minimum social behavioural biomedical and structural standards for Kenya-based sex-work programs.
 Interviews with HIV-positive Sex Workers conducted by AIDS-Fondet’s Senior HIV and AIDS Advisor