PERSPECTIVES

GUEST BLOG: "HEKO = Hope" by Allison Buchignani

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Theresa putting a necklace on Allison. Theresa makes the necklaces that are red AIDS-awareness ribbon made of beads.

While I was in Nairobi, Kenya, I had the unique chance to spend an afternoon with some people living with HIV/AIDS.   We visited with HEKO (Heritage Kenya Organization), locally led by Peter and Monica Odero and financially supported by Mocha Club and African Leadership.  HEKO helps these people get the nutrition and medication they need, as well as provides micro-lending opportunities to help them start their own businesses.

We met in a park just a few minutes away from Kibera (the slum where most of the group members live). We played soccer, talked, danced, shared stories, and watched a presentation. The presentation included some African dancing, but the central message was a skit about how AIDS is spread. As I spoke with one of the leaders of the organization, I began to understand the serious lack of education in Kibera. The actors in the skit were in the process of explaining that HIV is spread by sexual contact. Many of the youth in Kibera lack role models, family, and older friends to explain these things to  them, so HEKO focuses on education through skits, singing, and one-on-one meetings.

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HEKO women at the park


I’ve worked in various fields with teens and college students, but I’ve had very little experience in AIDS education and awareness. I was amazed by the survival stories that two women, Theresa and Jan, shared: they explained that they had contracted AIDS, received help from HEKO, and started businesses – making it possible for them to care for their loved ones.  Then, they began to educate and help others in similar circumstances.

To hear that these women received a unimaginably difficult diagnosis and then chose hope was truly inspirational to me.  I envy their passion and their heroic strength. Thank you Theresa and Jan for sharing your hearts and lives.  Thank you for fighting the effects of this devastating disease.  I am more inspired and hopeful today because of you.

Editor’s note: Allison Buchignani was on the African Leadership Kenya trip in July 2009.  She is also a volunteer for Mocha Club.

View more trip photos here.

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3 Comments

  • Reply marisa August 7, 2009 at 10:51 am

    great words, allison…thanks for sharing!

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