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In Mombasa, A Unique Program Helps People With AIDS

Low-income Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS face a range of challenges. In the Catholic Diocese of Mombasa on Kenya's coast, people affected by AIDS have formed groups that enable members to increase their incomes and improve their nutrition.

Officials of Jipe Moyo Savings and Lending Group count money contributed by their fellow members.

At each meeting, members put a minimum of 62 cents into a savings pot, plus 12 cents for a fund to help members cover emergency costs.

The members are then able to take out loans typically ranging from $20 to $40.

Group chairwoman Susan Mumba says, "Through this group," we can pay for school fees for our children. It also gives us food from the farm - we are able to farm through this group. It has brought us great benefit."

Caroline Kache was able to construct a borehole on her two-acre farm with her loan, enabling her to irrigate her crops.

She also gave a piece of her land to her 20-member savings and loan group, enabling her colleagues to grow food for themselves and their families.

Kache says the group has transformed her from the days that she was bedridden and receiving treatment at St. Luke's Hospital. "It has really changed my life," she explains, "First, I secured a job at St. Luke's Hospital - I am now working as a patient attendant. It has made me to be famous. The whole of Kayafungo Location - they can see I am different. They thought that one day, one time I will die, but it has improved my life."

Jipe Moyo is one of more than 360 Savings and Internal Lending Communities, or SILC, groups operating within the Catholic Diocese of Mombasa. Most of these groups consist of members who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

Catholic Relief Services and the Diocese of Mombasa administer the program, providing training and support through funding from USAID and other donors.

Stanley Masamo is social development coordinator with the Diocese of Mombasa. He explains that the goal of the SILC program is to encourage low-income communities to become self-sufficient. "It is their own money. What we are doing is just building the capacity, showing them that you can save, showing them that you can actually start a business, showing them that you can actually do loaning amongst yourselves," he said.

With the $25 loan she received, group member Constance Kagombe was able to expand what she sells in her shop.

Kagombe says that she has more customers and income to support her, her three children and two grandchildren. She explains that she can now eat a nutritious, balanced diet.

"I can get sukuma wiki, cabbage, some tomato soup, bananas, and even some milk and other small things," Kagombe said.

For Kagombe and the others, Jipe Moyo Savings and Lending Group is more than just about the money.

"The good thing about this (group) is that we who are suffering, those of us who know our (HIV) status, we can encourage ourselves," Kagombe adds, "When we are together, and when we part, even if it is at the farm, we leave with hope that we can survive."

In the national language Ki'Swahili, "Jipe Moyo" means "encourage yourself." For Kagombe and her colleagues, being a member of a savings and loan group can enable them to do just that.