HerStory Centre’s vision is to be the leading centre in providing sustainable and improved quantity and quality of life for the vulnerable populations in the region. HerStory Centre provides support to female and girl-children (12 – 18 years of age) sex workers, operating primarily in Nairobi’s eastern slums. The women and girls associated with HerStory are called “members” to promote ownership. Human rights is a cornerstone issue for HerStory as its members are vulnerable for four primary reasons: 1) they are women in a society where women are often disempowered; 2) most of them are single mothers; 3) they are involved in sex work, which is criminalized in Kenya; and 4) their constant risk of HIV infection or their being HIV positive.
Currently HerStory has 2,548 active members: 806 women and 700 girls. Two hundred and eighty (280) women are on ARVs and 80 are supported with food supplements. HerStory also supports orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs)—200 AIDS orphans of deceased members since 1996 to the present, and 160 children of vulnerable members from 2001 to the present.
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 mobilizers, 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.
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).
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 revolving funds 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 the organization is to be dually successful in obtaining funds and developing and implementing public information campaigns.
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.
Kenya has a population of 39 million, which is projected to grow to 50 million by 2020. The country is ethnically and religiously diverse with 42 tribes. Slightly more than 85% of the population is literate, with a 7.6% gap between men and women. Most Kenyans are trilingual. Ethnic groups typically maintain their own languages, while the official languages include English (brought by British colonial rule) and Kiswahili (a costal blending of Arabic and African languages). About 45% of the citizens are Protestants; 33% Catholic; 10% Muslim, and 10% practice indigenous religions. Whereas the ethnic diversity results in a rich culture, it is also the source of political conflict.
Despite the global economic downturn, Kenya’s economy has continued to expand. In 2010 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at 5.6%. The World Bank projects that Kenya’s economy will grow again in 2011 at a rate of 4.8%, and that if it maintains economic growth near 6% it will reach Middle Income Country status by 2019. However, despite these positive indicators of economic growth, poverty remains a major challenge. The percentage of Kenyans living on less than one USD per day increased from 49% in 1990 to 56% in 2006. Fifty percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line and one third of the population is unemployed. Seventy five percent of the population is employed in agriculture; however, agriculture produces only 16.3% of the GDP.