Journalist Ruthann Richter and I met Joseph and William one morning in their two-room home in Naivasha, Kenya. Their rented house for which they paid $15/month was simple, unpainted wood. The floor was dirt and the furnishings included chairs, a bed separated from the rest of the house by a torn sheet, a kerosene burner and shelves that contained pots, plastic utensils and a flowered teakettle.
We wanted to meet them because we knew they were both HIV+ and had to handle the stigma that comes with this illness. They had little money as Joseph lost his job when he was diagnosed, and now struggles to pay rent and feed himself and William. On slim days they have “black tea” (tea without milk) and a cup of maize and beans for lunch. Other days the meals include ugali – a stiff maize-flour polenta – greens, bananas, and sometimes a little meat or fish. The point is that their living conditions are harsh and their protein intake inadequate to maintain health even though they are on antiretroviral medication.
But Joseph has a radiant smile and said, “I am enjoying my life and I thank God for giving me this chance.” And we loved the tenderness he offered his spunky, but very ill young son William.
Ruthann and I wanted to help, but didn’t want to give money without a plan. Joseph said that he thought he could earn an adequate living by raising chickens to sell to members of his church. The parish social worker said she would enroll him in classes to learn about the business.
It does not take all that much money to train set up someone in the chicken business in Kenya. We returned from our trip, sold our souvenirs to friends for holiday gifts, and through the Thomas Merton Center, wired the funds to Joseph’s social worker.
Friends who visited them recently said he was doing well. He has 210 chicks, water dispensers, feeders and a charcoal burner to keep them warm. When they are 8 weeks old they will be sold, providing the capital to purchase more chicks as well as money to support his family. Here is a photo we received of the first batch of chickens.