A Beacon of Hope for Kenyan Women Affected by HIV and AIDS
Nine years ago, Janet never imagined she would be supervising 15 other women. At the time, she was a volunteer in a women’s group fighting HIV and AIDS. There was little work, especially for women, in the suburban Nairobi slum where Janet still lives with her two daughters and her husband, who earns a meager wage as a pastor. It was before Jane Wathome, a business woman and recent seminary graduate, founded Beacon of Hope (BoH) where Janet, and scores of other women who had never earned a regular income, received vocational training as well as a range of other services.
“I have always had a passion to work with women’s empowerment,” Wathome recalls, “The majority of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya are women. They are also the most economically challenged and disadvantaged.” To address these challenges and empower women to become financially independent, Wathome started Beacon of Hope (BoH) in 2002.
One of the faith-based organization’s first beneficiaries, Janet was taught how to weave the tough fibers of the sisal and banana plants into carpets and produce other marketable crafts. As she overcame her shyness, Janet began acting as an interpreter for visitors to the organization and volunteering to stay with the sick at home and in hospital. By 2008, with newfound confidence and skills, BoH hired Janet to oversee the organization’s income-generating activities, where she now supervises 15 women.
Like Janet, Beacon of Hope has experienced a transformation in the past few years. A CAP grantee from 2005-10, BoH started out in a small, single building that housed all of its activities. It had few pieces of equipment and no institutional systems. Funding sources were limited to small donations from individuals and churches.
Today, thanks to CAP’s technical assistance and the hard work of its employees, BoH is a bustling, four-building operation. Walking into the main gate visitors are struck by the vast scale of the compound, the well-kept grounds and the staff’s warm welcome. The training and production center, which now houses half a dozen looms, exudes a calming hum as the women manipulate the tension of the thread, creating vibrant, eye-catching rugs. More than 90 women currently make and sell their products, taking home 10,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $120) per month, an amount most had never dreamed they could earn.
In addition, BoH runs 12 interconnected programs. Among them are a kindergarten for beneficiaries’ children; a culinary training course, that provides hot meals for the children and simultaneously prepares youth for jobs in the restaurant business; and a community garden, that grows ingredients for the culinary training. Supporting these programs is a sustainable, efficient organizational structure with human resources policies, a full-time accountant, a strategic plan, and most important, a successful fundraising strategy that includes a business development office that markets BoH products around the world.
Since opening its doors in 2002, Beacon of Hope has given women, like Janet, the opportunity to work for their financial independence and provide a better life for themselves and their families. In the coming years, Wathome hopes to see the success replicated in other parts of Kenya and throughout Africa.