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Success Stories

Strengthening Support for the Most Vulnerable Children

Miriam with her KAG caregiver, Mary.

At just 16 years old, Miriam Francis is the head of her household, taking
care of her three younger siblings and the baby of her 13-year-old sister.
Miriam has been in this position for four years, ever since her mother became sick with AIDS. Despite Miriam's young age, as the eldest child, she had to leave school to care for her mother, doing everything from feeding to washing her, while also tending to the needs of her siblings.

This situation is not unusual in Kenya, where roughly 6% of the population is
HIV-positive, creating more than one million orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) in its wake. There is little support for children like Miriam.

In 2002, the Baptist Relief Agency Africa (BARAA) was created to form a nationwide church response to HIV. In 2008, BARAA was awarded a PEPFAR grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control under the New Partners Initiative (NPI), to fund HIV activities and support OVC and people living with HIV. This grant assists BARAA's 16 indigenous church partners in four districts.

In addition, BARAA was given assistance for the NPI grant from John Snow, Inc. and its partner Initiatives Inc., through the TA-NPI. With this support, BARAA has been trained in organizational management, technical programming for HIV, and technical assistance for financial, administrative, human resources, and monitoring and evaluation systems and processes.

With enhanced systems and skills, BARAA expanded its support for children like Miriam. BARAA’s partners received organizational and technical training and hired additional staff, including bookkeepers and project managers. A health care network was developed—particularly for HIV counseling and testing—and psychosocial support referrals established.

Building the skills of OVC caregivers is also a critical element of BARAA support. Mary Kiguthi is a project coordinator for partner church Kenya Assemblies of God. She was involved in the Kenya Assemblies of God OVC program, and participated in a BARAA caregiver training. Through the BARAA network, Mary connected with Miriam and found a local HIV
counselor to help her.

"We went to talk to Miriam about HIV and the importance of being tested, and she agreed," says Lillian Mbatha, the local HIV counselor. "She tested positive and we referred her to the district hospital for treatment."

Kenya Assemblies of God helps roughly 40 children in the eastern coastal town of Malindi through its BARAA-supported OVC program. Each day the children are given lunch and additional food is provided to the families, as well as school materials and personal items. BARAA also trained sub-partner staff and caregivers on how best to respond to the needs of OVC.

In Mary's case, the training on psychosocial support has proven very useful. When she was connected to Miriam’s family, the siblings had no adult support, and Mary recognized how bad their situation was.

"I see her every day; I am like a mother to her," says Mary. "I feel a burden for them as a family.""I tell Mary my deep needs, even if it's late in the evening," says Miriam. "She talks with me until I am calm."

While Miriam and her siblings have been helped by the TA-NPI-supported BARAA network, much still needs to be done. Their future on the family land is uncertain and if they are forced to leave, they won't have anywhere to live because Malindi is a beach resort area and property rentals are extremely high.

Looking ahead, BARAA plans to reach out to the local chief's office to help Miriam and her siblings obtain birth certificates, which will help them gain legal rights to their family land. BARAA also will discuss the land issue at the district level, and contact Cradle, a nonprofit organization in Nairobi that advocates for children like Miriam.

BARAA also plans to sensitize Miriam's extended family to HIV and negotiate with them to let the children remain on their land. And Miriam has expressed a desire for a support group, so BARAA and its partners will establish one that includes youth.

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