Gladys Kadogomoses’ big blue radio works perfectly after more than four years of constant use by her and her ladies’ listening group. She told me with great affection what it had meant to her – how she learned so much about health, nutrition and women’s rights; how she followed events during the frightening unrest in 2008 on the BBC; how she listened to the debates around the referendum; and most importantly about the programmes that told her about the medicines she needed to take and when to take them – because Gladys is HIV positive.

I first met gracious and friendly Gladys just after she had been diagnosed. She told me openly that she felt hopeless, ashamed and contemplated suicide because her deceased truck-driver husband, had left her nothing other than a disease. Then she joined the women’s self-help group Vumilia (perseverance in Swahili) and met weekly with other women in similar circumstances. With support, encouragement, and acceptance coupled with anti-retroviral drugs, she began to put her life back together.

In 2006 Gladys received a Lifeline radio along with 30 other positive women. She was the only one not a grandmother.

This was the first time since then that I had been back to Vumilia, which is in Kabras, just north of Kakamega in Western Kenya. On the weekend, I visited Gladys in her home to find out about her first night with her Lifelight.  The day before she and 30 other women, participated in a Lifelight workshop.

Gladys beamed when she told me that her three children shared the light to study and for the first time she could see properly at night to read her Bible.  Also for the first time, they used the pit latrine after dark, feeling safe from snakes and being able to see. She said, “without this light, at night we are otherwise forced to use a small white bucket.”

In addition, she spoke about the savings on paraffin that she would make.  Gladys, like most women I’ve met who live in poverty, buy paraffin daily in small amounts.  She spends anywhere from 20-40 Kenya shillings (25-50 US cents) per day averaging KS10,950 annually or a staggering $135. When the children study for exams she buys enough for light three lights.  With the Lifelight, her savings will be significant.

Vumilia’s founder, Rose Ayuma Moon, who grew up in the Kabras area, established in 2004.  Although she lives in Nairobi, she set up Vumilia because she saw how the skyrocketing HIV/AIDS pandemic was disrupting the lives of alarming numbers in her community and at that time the government was doing very little. Today Vumilia provides health and psycho-social support to 200 HIV positive women – all but two are grannies. In addition, Rose, who tirelessly and heroically divides her time between Kabras and Nairobi, also established the Vulmilia Home for Orphaned Girls, a residential facility for 22 girls aged 3-16 in 2006.

by Kristine Pearson in Kabras