Arriving home from school, Katana Koya pulls a small stool into the shade of a mango tree and helps his mother Jumwa split peas for the family dinner. Theirs is an easy relationship. As they work together under a late-day Kenyan sun, they are a picture of tranquility, betraying not a hint of the battles both have been fighting: Katana for the chance at education and Jumwa for life itself.
For Jumwa, that battle started after her husband Karisa died in 2002. Two years later, Jumwa herself fell ill and finally decided to test for HIV.
"When I went for that HIV test it turned out positive," Jumwa says. "When I was given a positive result I was in denial. I kept it as a secret."
Jumwa is the only breadwinner in her family—she earns a tiny income from casual labor and from selling a few vegetables from her farm in the Malindi district of coastal Kenya—and her illness hit the family hard. Bedridden for most of a two-year stretch, she was unable to earn money to support her seven children, including Katana, then 11 years old, and his sister Mvera, just 7. Education became a luxury. Basic school costs like uniforms and books were simply too much for the family. Eventually Katana and his sister dropped out of school.
"They used to stay at home because they had no uniforms, no scholastic materials," Jumwa explains.
Then Catholic Relief Services arrived with help. Working with the Diocese of Malindi as part of the AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, CRS helped provide the family with mattresses, mosquito nets, a home-based care kit for Jumwa and some basic household renovation. The children met with counselors to help them deal with the stress of losing their father and their mother's illness.
"Through the…project, my children have been able to get advice and support," Jumwa says. "They learned there were people who cared for them."
Hope for a Better Future
Katana, now 16, and his younger sister also received uniforms and school supplies. Both returned to school. Katana brought with him a new perspective on life.
"For me the biggest impact has been my education," Katana says. "Because of the school materials we received, we have hope. I had dropped out, but now I feel there is hope of becoming a better person in the future."
With her youngest children now back in school, her home renovated, and her health restored by the powerful antiretroviral medications from Gede Health Center—a clinic linked to CRS for referrals—Jumwa feels like she can be a mother again. Where once she hid her HIV status, she is now the chair of a support group that encourages others with HIV.
And Katana now has dreams for the future.
"I am aspiring to become a doctor so I can help my mother and the community," Katana says.
He says that by helping him return to school, CRS made those dreams possible.
"I'm trying to work hard so that I can continue my education," Katana adds. "My situation at home is not a barrier as long as I have support."