That’s all folks………

All four of us made it back home safely, suitably tired, slightly malnourished and energized by what we saw.  For this final blog we thought it would be fun to conduct an interview with the four of us – the only odd thing is that I will be interviewing myself.

What project inspired you the most and why?

Georgia:  I loved going to see FAAD in Lilongwe, Malawi. There was so much boundless energy in the room of a group of 40 or so kids who were genuinely excited to come in and learn. But it also made me realise just how hard FAAD’s job is. Their project is to support the human rights of LGBTs, and yet half the kids they talked to in the room that day believed that not only is it ok to discriminate against LGBTs, but that you actually should. And their basis for saying so was because of their religious beliefs – they were all quoting the bible at each other. While FAAD are only 6 months into their grant with us, from spending time with them and seeing the work that they do, and the way the kids were engaged listening to them, I have a lot of hope that, while it will be slow, they will be able to change the minds of the young people within the community – through their debates, the drama they put on, and the conversations they have directly with the audience. 

Sara:  MAAYGO was always the project I was most looking forward to visiting to visit and to see them in action was fantastic. They are doing incredible work for the LGBT community in Kisumu and it’s a thankless task. They inspired me so much because they have put up with years of harassment, been beaten up, humiliated and shunned just for who they are and for trying to make things better for their peers. And yet they carry on. And they are having an important impact, making things better for themselves and other MSM. On top of this they do their work with smiles on their faces. Saying goodbye to them was tough, they’ve left a real impression on me. 

Covi:  I was most inspired by Development Concept’s social enterprise. They are creating an Internet cafe, which if it works will plug a huge gap for Internet in the Malawian market. What really amazed me however was how seamlessly they mixed HIV/AIDS prevention into this project, making people pass an HIV related quiz before losing into the computer. The project was hugely creative and seemed to me to have a huge amount of potential, both in creating profit and a positive social impact.

John: It is very hard to isolate any one grantee as they all inspired me but if I had to pick one then Kisumu Disabled table egg production social enterprise grabbed my attention.  As I was involved in raising the funds and selecting the grantees, I felt a real affinity towards Mildred and Joseph.  They were one of MTV Staying Alive’s first grantees and they had always dreamed of building a self-sustaining egg production operation.  Their passion and energy behind this business was so obvious.  I am sure there will be ups and downs but I believe they have found a genuine gap in the market that will enable them to serve their market efficiently and generate real profits so they can continue to support their HIV prevention efforts in Kisumu.  

What one event or interaction from the trip can you isolate that will stand out as an indelible moment you will never forget.

Georgia:  Watching Covi confidently give a condom demonstration in front of 40 young sex workers and MSM… that was quite a moment for me!  I also loved our Sunday afternoon spent on the River Shire as the sun went down, spotting elephants, crocs and hippos… that was pretty cool!

Sara: That’s a tough one! I will definitely not forget doing a female condom demo in front of loads of kids and sex workers in a hurry. But meeting the doctor in kisumu was eye opening. Hearing about the 19% infection rate with MSM rates likely to be much, much higher and the fact that health workers are often perpetrators of discrimination against gay men, was sobering. But I also came away from that meeting with hope because there are people willing to fight against these issues. 

Covi:  One interaction which has stuck in my mind since the trip is with the head of one of the projects in Kenya. He explained to us that he was very sad, because a group of 7 men (despite him being a tall man) had attacked and raped him because of his sexuality. Then when he went to seek medical help and get tested he was told that they don’t test homosexual men. He projected a real sense of sadness when he told us the story and it really helped me to understand how difficult it must be for a gay man living in a society that frequently discriminates against him.

John:  I have to say I have been incredibly impressed by the young leaders we have met throughout this trip.  Whether it be our grantees themselves or the young leaders they have chosen to lead their group discussions.  In every community we have seen youth fully engaged, articulate, willing to offer an opinion in a very clear and mature way.  Their answers may sometimes not be what we would like to hear but at least they are comfortable sharing their thoughts.  These youngsters are opinionated, confident and willing to learn.

What does being part of MTV Staying Alive Foundation mean to you? How does it impact your everyday life 

Georgia:  This is so hard to answer simply. As the co-Founder of MTV SAF, I’ve seen it grow from a germ of an idea, into something that today, has impact on both the macro level (with MTV Shuga) and the micro, with our grantees working in the square miles of their communities. I’m so proud of our grantees – we don’t design the programmes for them to run – they do; these young leaders have an innate understanding of what will work within their community; and they have passion and ambition to ensure that they work. The Foundation itself is a very small charity, but it packs a mighty punch. We have a small, 5 1/2 person team in London, each of whom are passionate about what we do (and each are brilliant in what they do!); and we have an incredible army of young leaders on the ground who are making genuine positive changes in their communities and who are supported by being able to use the MTV SAF brand. Day by day, MTV SAF and all our grantees, are building up a strong legacy that I am already so proud of. And trips like these enable us to work directly with our grantees, and always asking the question at our end: what can we do better? What more can we do to support them?

What does being part of MTV SAF mean to me? I know that I have one of the absolute best jobs in the world…I’m not really sure how it happened, but I’m hugely thankful that it did.  

Why has HIV been somewhat forgotten as an issue in the developed world?
Covi: I feel that HIV is a forgotten issue mainly because of the creation of ARVs. They amazingly allow people with the virus to continue living full lives, but this means that people are no longer as afraid of HIV in the international community. This of course forest the adverse effects of living on ARVs. To add to this, the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS appears to have become less fashionable over the years and so, as funding fades, so too does global concern over the issue of HIV.

What motivates you to work with MTV Staying Alive? What has been your experience being part of the board? 

John:  As Georgia just said, this is a small charity that packs a mighty punch.  I stumbled across MTV Staying Alive and found something very special where I felt I could truly help them amplify their message so that they could secure a broader base of funding and ultimately help more people.  These are highly talented, motivated and creative people who are quietly building an incredible charity.  Sometimes you need people like me from the outside to be their cheerleader.  I take no credit for anything they do, but I can brag about their achievements and say the things they are too humble to share.  

I have only very recently joined the board.  I believe serving on a board is an honor, I have set myself a high bar to deliver as a board member and don’t want to let anyone down.  The composition of the board is impressive, I know I will learn a lot from my fellow board members and look forward to helping MTV Staying Alive continue their amazing work.  

What did you learn at the International AIDS conference that you could bring to this trip?

Georgia:  The IAC is a conference of 20,000+ people desperate for space to talk about their projects and network with others. But what always comes out of these conferences are the statistics: this year, we now know that the death rate due to AIDS of adolescents has increased by 50% (whereas all other demographics have decreased by up to 35%); and that adolescent girls are most at risk: a 15-19 yr old girl in S Africa is 8x as likely to be infected as a boy that age. But what was great about the trip was being able to take the stats and seeing them IRL. It’s one thing to talk about the HIV prevalence rate in Kisumu being 19% (general population) – but then actually seeing 1 in 3 kids (mostly MSMs) who tested while we were there, testing +ve makes the statistics very very real.

Covi:  I learnt that the voices of young people are more important than ever before. I heard countless times at the conference leaders calling for the next generation to take up the mantle and the fight and that this is the only way we will see an end to AIDS. For this reason, going to the conference made me realise how important these youth led projects are, especially in galvanising a prevention movement in more rural areas, where it is far easier for the locals to make a big impact within their community rather than large international organisations. 

Why is it so important to visit a sub set of MTV Staying Alive grantees?

Sara:  We need to educate people about HIV and what MTV Staying Alive is doing to prevent it and the best way is to see it for ourselves. I also think our Grantees are all so different you need to visit multiple projects to get a real sense of how young people are addressing HIV prevention in the most culturally relevant ways. 

As the Director of Fundraising what are the challenges in raising funds for an HIV focused charity?

Sara:  As we heard a lot on our trip, there is still so much misinformation about HIV out there and that’s not just the case in Africa. People in the UK often think HIV/AIDS is a solved problem so giving money to the issue seems irrelevant to them. I think that’s one of the hardest things – we have to educate people about why this is important. Unless you’ve seen it for yourself it’s not necessarily an issue most people consider supporting. Also getting people to understand the importance of prevention can be tricky. I find people want tangible but emotive issues/stories to support so it might be easier say if we were raising money to fund medical treatment for people living with HIV. But I like a challenge and visiting projects as we’ve just done, and writing things like the blog are all part of educating people and trying to gain support for what we’re doing. 

Describe each of your three travel companions with 3 emojis

Georgia:

Covi  – 🤓👶🏻😂❤️

John  – 📠🏃🏻🐣

Sara  – 🍤💪🏼💵

Sara:
Covi – 🍔👾📸

John – 🗽🏃🏻📲

Georgia -💃🏻💅🎙

Covi:
John – 🤓⌚️🍛

Mum – 👠🍏🗣

Sarah – 🕵🏻🚉💸

John:

Georgia – 👑 💅😎

Sara – 🛩🍪😀

Covi – 🤓🍕🎮

John – in your opening blog you referenced your search for the special one(s) – well?

Mission accomplished – I found a number of special people and I told them what I thought.  They know who they are and I am a better person for meeting them.

Thank you everyone for reading our blog, for sending us private notes, public likes and ❤️s.  

If anyone wants to learn more about the work of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation please go to http://www.mtvstayingalive.org/about-us/ for more information.

Georgia, Sara, John and Covi

London and New York – 28th July, 2016

Selection of some my favorite photos

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Nearly time to say goodbye……

Georgia writes:

Days like today…
End of trip days. 
They usually start with an early alarm call and today was no different. Airport transfer with a collection of grumpy passengers (not us!) obviously not quite having had the caffeine hit their blood stream yet.  

 
Blantyre Airport is small. Very small. And, so it seems, not too concerned about security. When we’d gone through security (which beeped for me, but no one seemed to notice/care) we sat down to wait for our plane. And noticed a lone abandoned suitcase by the door. We looked around. No one was coming to claim it. No one seemed that interested. So Sara (our very security-conscious person in the team) found the (lone) policeman to come check it out. He opened up the side pockets, seemingly unconcerned that an abandoned suitcase in the airport might be something to be wary of (and at Heathrow, would shut the entire airport down as they moved the robots in to blow it up); nothing in the side pocket other than a metal bracelet. By this point, a small crowd has gathered to give an opinion on what might be in the case. The policeman opened up the main section of the case and found… a photo. Of one of the crew members. “It’s ok” he declared. “It’s just the bag of one of the crew. All is fine”. And he walked away. 10 minutes later the crew member strolls up, picks up her bag and stands by the door to check our tickets. 

 
I’m writing this as the Malawian Air plane has just taken off taking us to Jo’berg, the first leg of our journey home. The pilot hadn’t quite bothered to check if his crew were seated, so as the wheel is lifting off the ground, one of the crew is running to the back of the plane to take her seat!

 
Different worlds. Different standards. Which pretty much sums up our trip. I think that one of the stand-out moments of the trip for me was when we sat in a room full of kids in Lilongwe, listening to a debate on “should you discriminate against LGBTs” and half the audience who spoke thought it was absolutely right to discriminate against LGBTs. Because the Bible says so. Because it’s not natural. And because the Bible says so. In Malawi, as with so many countries across Africa, the Church rules. On the one hand, this is good. It gives community, a sense of security, a sense of hope in a country that is immensely poor with very little chance of changing because it’s land-locked with very few natural resources. The only things sold on the side of the road are tomatoes, cabbage and onions. Good to make soup with. There’s really not much else. And the crops have failed for yet another year. So religion rules. But it does mean (and I say this without wanting to insult anyone or any religion) that there is less capacity to think for yourself. If the Church says something is right (or wrong), there’s no debate about it. Condoms, therefore, are wrong. LGBTs are most definitely wrong. Girls and women are there purely to procreate; and in Southern Malawi, where we ended up, there’s the “Hyenas”, men who are paid to “cleanse” women – because their husband has died, or they’ve had a miscarriage of abortion, or for any other reason that the community can come up with. 

 
So the work that our MTV Staying Alive projects do here is really really hard. And to see change, you have to be patient. But the young leaders that we work with have patience in abundance, and knowledge, and ambition. Ambition to do something with their lives because they know that they are the ones who have to change things for themselves, because no one else will hand them anything. 

 
Amazing young people like Chipie and Alan who run Development Concept, our new Social Enterprise grant who are setting up a “tech hub” in Liwonde where access to the Internet is pretty much non-existent. Yesterday they took us to the building that in 3 weeks time will be open to the public. The walls have been smoothed down, the plug points are installed… all it needs now is a ceiling and the 20 computers (which are on order). This group are amazing – we’ve worked with them since 2009 and they have an innate understanding of the market they’re working in. When we look to fund our social enterprise grants (who come from our pool of grantees who’ve had 4 years of funding from us already, so we know each other and trust each other), we look for ideas that show an understanding of what the gap is in the market – and building an Internet cafe in a place where there is no internet seems to fill that gap pretty well. We just have to hope that when they open, the network (supplied by the Malawian phone company) works!

Days like today.  

End of trip days. They’re usually the days – however good the trip has been – that I’m excited about because it means I’m on my way home to see Covi. This trip has been different because he’s been here with me every step of the way.  

 

When he turned round to me, after having seen 1 in 3 people that night in Kisumu, Kenya, tested HIV+, and told me that he just hadn’t realised that HIV was still such an issue, I knew it had been the right thing to bring him along. When he confidently stood up in front of a group of 40 sex workers and MSM youths, and did a condom demonstration perfectly (phew!) I was pretty proud. And seeing him engaging with every project that he’s seen, asking questions, contributing to our blogs and taking his role as “official photographer” seriously, it also made me remember just how privileged I am. Privileged to be able to bring Covi along with me, and privileged to be able to share with him first-hand the job that I do. Oh, and privileged to do the job that I do. The job that I love, and – incredibly, after 22 years – the job that just gets better and better. And when I get the opportunity to meet with our amazing young leaders in their communities, fighting the fight every single day and changing attitudes, beliefs and lives person-by-person, square mile by square mile, I know that by having this incredible army of positive (and sometimes, but not always, HIV+) ambitious and visionary young people working with us, we can battle the statistics that I talked about in my first blog of the trip, one-by-one-by-one. 

We leave tonight for London and New York respectively and one more final blog to come after we arrive home.

Thanks for reading our blog and following us.

Georgia

Between Blantyre, Malawi and Johannesburg, South Africa

25/26 July, 2016




The Incredibles, a hippo, an elephant and a frog…..

We made it to Blantyre so here is yesterday’s blog with loads of pics!!!

John writing: one of my favorite scenes in the kids movie The Incredibles is when the whole family squeeze into this tiny toy car and go on their way. Well today when we left Lilongwe it was like a scene from The Incredibles as we all squeezed into this little car for our expected 4 hour drive to Liwonde. I assumed my usual position next to the driver and the rest squeezed into the back debating who will sit in the middle. I kinda feel bad about sitting in the front but being the biggest in the group wherever I sit will just cause discomfort to my fellow travelers. I might be sitting on the roof soon if the cars get any smaller.  
Once Covi and I had our ritual morning run, Georgia her walk and Sara her extra sleep we made our way to Liwonde. Being a Sunday the roads were pretty quiet but the towns and markets we passed through were bustling with activity. There was a mixture of people selling all sorts of goods but engrained in my memory are beautifully stacked tomatoes in every single town we passed that did look delicious. The scenery was beautiful, hilly, rocky, dusty roads and some very basic villages. We saw some communities where the homes were made of brick but plenty I would describe as mud huts with straw roofs. We saw a group of women at the water well filling their canisters with water. Some of the communities had no obvious source of electricity while others the power lines were clear and obvious. Every town we went through we saw people on bicycles or walking – some in their Sunday best for their respective church services. The amount of walking people do is staggering – you see over loaded mini-caravan taxis crammed with people but it is clear a lot of people ride bicycles or walk. It is not unusual for kids to walk 5 to 10 km to and from school or someone walking 20km to see a doctor at a local hospital.  
After a brief rest stop to get some water and chocolate we arrived at Liwonde after only 3 hours. We checked into our hotel (Covi will cover this later) and total horror – NO WORKING WIFI!!! This blog is being posted a day late for this reason but we have effectively been out of touch with our world for over 24 hours – will we survive??? We will let you know soon.
Sara writing: We met Development Concept for a pre-visit meeting at our hotel. Chipiliro (Executive Director), Alan (programmes officer) and Linda (programmes assistant) have all worked with Development Concept since it started and will be integral to their newly awarded Social Enterprise grant. We heard a lot about how with their first MTV Staying Alive grant they implemented HIV awareness sessions in their local community, gave out free condoms and encouraged testing. They were so impressive and flexible in their approach – when they found young people they were targeting weren’t coming to their resource center because it was too far from where they lived, they took the project to them by setting up micro resource centers in rural villages around Liwonde ensuing that young people could still get the eduction and support they needed to protect themselves from HIV. As of June, Development Concept is one of 6 new Social Enterprise grantees. They’re setting up a tech-hub where young people can access computers and the Internet for a small monthly subscription but, before being able to log on, they need to answer a short questionnaire on HIV. We all loved this project when we read the proposal but love them even more now. Chipiliro, Alan and Linda are all so enthusiastic and serious about making this social enterprise a success. I’m sure it will be. 
Covi writing: On the trip down to Liwonde we spent a lot of time discussing what horrors awaited us at the Hippo View Hotel, having seen trip advisor reviews including ‘there were maggots in the bins.’ But on arrival we were pleasantly surprised, with beautiful gardens, lovely views and some impressive rooms. At the end of the day our opinions had changed once more, with the hotel being vaguely reminiscent to the once grand and eerily unoccupied atmosphere of the Grand Budapest Hotel. There were about 6-7 waiters serving the two (out of about 50) tables being used, watching eagerly while we ate. The food actually wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t hide my disappointment that despite the fact that both parts of my staple diet were on the menu (burger and pizza) neither were in the kitchen…the same went for about half the menu. The experience was topped off when on returning to her room my mum discovered that the toilet was not just a toilet, but doubled up as the home of a small frog.
While the hotel wasn’t the best, our spirits were lifted when we went on a boat tour down the nearby River Shire. Almost immediately we were treated to some of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. We set out just before sunset, with the sun orange and low in the sky, illuminating the water and marshlands that surrounded it.
When I imagine an African Safari, the river is exactly what I would have in mind, and in the space of an hour we saw a minimum of 40 Hippo’s, some only meters away. We saw so much that I’ll have to summarize some of the best moments, which included seeing an adult hippo leap out of the water right next to us, a 2 meter crocodile go from lying in the open on land to crawling into the water and becoming submerged, an entire herd of elephants coming out of the reeds, a hovering kingfisher, the sun glowing red as it set over the river and not another tourist in sight the entire time.
The ride was stunning and it’s hard to believe that such an incredibly poor country can have so much natural beauty. Malawi has never really advertised itself as a major safari destination, but we found wildlife in excess to the traditional sights of South Africa and Kenya. It makes Malawi one of the only places I’ve seen untainted by tourism and made the experience one of the most memorable of the trip for me.
One day to go and we will start to plot our way home.
There is still more to come – keep following.
Georgia, Sara, Covi and John
Liwonde, Malawi – 24th July 2016 (posted a day late)






Goodbye Kenya, Hello Malawi……the dancing begins

We are going to start with our project and end with how we got here.

Covi writing:  Today we visited our first project in Malawi, a youth-run project that increases awareness of HIV and STDs, and highlights LGBT rights, called the Foundation Against AIDS and for Sustained Development (FAAD).  We arrived at their bright orange HQ excited to see how the project, in its first 6 months of MTV Staying Alive Funding, was fairing. We were greeted by Steve, Sam and Esse, the leaders of FAAD who explained how they do work in the local prison and how a prison meant to accommodate less than 1000 people now had over 16,000 inside. When we asked if we were going to see it, they simply said that it was too dangerous for even them to enter; they called it a death trap.

We were treated to one of FAAD’s sensitization sessions with local youths, which started with a mock debate between two groups of peer educators with the title ‘it is good to discriminate against LGBT.’ I was interested to see how anyone was going to find any legitimate arguments to defend the statement, but they made a pretty good effort. Both sides played to the crowd, leaving the room buzzing with energy throughout. But despite the delivery being lighthearted, the arguments that both sides were taking was an illuminating insight into Malawian culture. Neither side attempted to argue against the fact that being homosexual was a sin and every point made was based on different interpretations of the bible, showing just how important religion is in this country. While the debate was staged, what wasn’t staged was the audience responses and 2 out of the 4 people asked which they thought was the correct argument, answered that they thought that it was right to discriminate against LGBT. FAAD certainly don’t have an easy job ahead.
We then moved onto the showpiece of the day, a drama performance by the peer educators. I won’t lie, my expectations were low at first, but after the first scene it was clear that we were watching some talented actors and actresses. The play followed a young girl, who after being abandoned by her mother and leaving her village, was raped by her employer, became pregnant and HIV +, had a risky and botched abortion and then ended up committing suicide when her new husband found out the truth…just a bit of light entertainment. But despite the slightly morbid plot, the script along with the brilliant performances had people laughing hysterically throughout and everyone in the room was loving it.
There’s no doubt that FAAD have done a great job in engaging the young people in Lilongwe and showed what a great opportunity the sort of combination of education and entertainment has given them to help educate an area that still maintains some incredibly backward (and dangerous) views to LGBT and sexual rights. 

After hiding tactfully in the corner while my mum, Sara and John were invited into a group dance session we said our goodbyes and are now continuing on our journey. Bring on the 4 hour car journey tomorrow.
John writing:  talking about journeys, I thought it would be fun to give a brief review of how we got to Lilongwe today.  When you travel a lot you get used to procedures whether it be security, customs and immigration.  You also know there is not a lot you can do about it, except follow the rules.  Any attempt to short-circuit the process will inevitably cause you more delay.   So we flew to Nairobi from Kisumu last night staying at the Boma Inn 15 minutes from Nairobi airport.  We had dinner last night with some former cast members of MTV Shuga.  This morning 8am breakfast for 8:45am departure – 2 cars show-up for 4 of us, so far so good.  Here are the next steps we went through:

  1. Exit car at perimeter of Nairobi airport  – walk through security – car throughly examined and 10 mins later we can re-enter car
  2. Line up outside airport to go through security to enter airport
  3. Go through security 
  4. Check bags to Lilongwe
  5. Go through security to immigration
  6. Immigration check
  7. One more check of passports at gate
  8. Coffee, wait, board plane
  9. Fly – nice flight 2 hours a little turbulence
  10. On plane fill in customs form
  11. Land in Lilongwe
  12. Deplane onto a bus – at this point we should’ve realized that sitting at the back of the bus like naughty school children was a bad idea
  13. Now the fun really begins – go through health check showing yellow international vaccination card prior to entering immigration hall
  14. Fill in long immigration form
  15. Stand in line to get form stamped (25 mins)
  16. Once stamped – stand in line to pay (30 mins)
  17. Once paid stand in line to have visa pasted into passport (10 mins)
  18. Stand in immigration line (10 mins but 15 mins if you are called Georgia)
  19. Collect luggage
  20. Go through customs – quizzed about what is in bags
  21. We think we are free but now we are asked to match baggage tags to luggage  and guess who had just thrown hers away in the garbage?  Yes, Georgia
  22. Sweet talk baggage ticket collect guy to let us through
  23. 2 hours after arrival we go straight to project Covi has just written about 
  24. Participate in an amazing project and provide grantees feedback
  25. Drive to hotel with Graham our very patient driver 
  26. Traffic halted as President of Malawi escort comes by
  27. Check into our hotel that I will just say is pretty basic

What is my point?  Travel in Africa takes a degree of patience that we sometimes fail to embrace in our fast paced world.  Everyone I have met in Africa on my two trips with MTV Staying Alive couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating (except for the lady who didn’t want to give Covi the wifi code last night).  You need to follow their procedures and be respectful.  Throughout our somewhat torturous process nobody lost it, we all absorbed the inconvenience and even found time to make jokes.  Fellow travelers advised each other what to do and we all made it to our destinations.  Blood pressure moderate and good moods in tact.  We have another 4 full days together before we go back to our respective homes.  I couldn’t think of a better group of people to be traveling with.  Hopefully I don’t jinx us and we all end up hating each other after our 4 hour drive tomorrow.

Thanks for following our blog, reposting, liking us on social media, etc.

Covi , John, Georgia and Sara

Lilongwe, Malawi – 23rd July 2016




Slow walkers, fast runners, unfinished roads and condom demos….

Today started with John and Covi going for a quick run round the block, and Sara and I taking a more leisurely stroll. We are living proof that you can’t walk quickly and talk at the same time!
Then it was off to visit Exodus Concerned, an MSM project based in Kagamega and, depending on who you spoke to, somewhere between 45 and 90 minutes away. It turned out that 90 minutes was correct, on a road that varied in quality… from recently tarmacked (by the Chinese Government who have paid for most of the new roads in Kenya) to entirely non-existent, and it would swap between both on a regular basis.
Exodus Concerned are 6 months into their first grant, so it was good to have seen MAAYGO yesterday, at the end of their 4 year grant, and the differences between them.
We started in a session with about 40 young sex workers and MSM (men who have sex with men, a term often used to describe gay men in countries where it’s illegal to be gay) having lessons on sexual health and HIV & STI prevention. The kids were really engaged, and the woman running the session kept them interested, and made sure they didn’t get out of hand. A young man stood up to give a condom demonstration, and insisted on putting the dildo down his trousers “in order to put the condom on my erect penis”. Never seen a demonstration like that, doubt I will again. He was brilliant – even if he did forget a couple of important points such as making sure the air is expelled from the tip of the condom (don’t forget that folks… you don’t want your condom to burst on you!). But because he didn’t get it 100% right, we needed another volunteer. Step up young Covi Franklin, who impressed the room with his condom skillz! As Covi’s mum I was somewhere between not quite being able to watch (it felt so wrong!), and feeling really quite proud!
And then…..disaster. They needed a volunteer to show the room how to use a female condom. I shrunk back into my seat, and managed to give Sara a gentle nudge to the front of the room. Let me tell you, female condoms are tricky (and not so) little things. It involves figures of 8, putting it on 30 minutes before you have sex, getting it in just-so….. They’ve not quite taken off in all the years they’ve been around (at least 10 years from memory) and seeing the demonstration, it’s not surprising. Most often used by sex workers, who are able to take charge of their own protection when a client doesn’t want to use a condom… But I wish that someone would redesign them so that they are genuinely user-friendly as the male condom is (yet men still insist they don’t want to use it!).
Laughter and learning over, we listened to some stories from some of the group talking about their own experiences of being gay in Kenya. One told us how his first sexual experience was with his Uncle, and how they’d go into the bushes every day to have sex. Another, a beautiful gentle giant of a man, told us how he’d been raped by 7 men one night (because they knew he was gay) and when he went to the hospital to get help, they turned him away.
These last 2 projects have really shown us the reality of what it’s like to be gay in a country where it’s a) illegal to be gay (or at least in Kenya, illegal for a man to have sex with another man to be specific) – and it’s illegal to be gay in 26 out of 54 countries on this continent – and b) the stigma and discrimination that the LGBT+ community have to live with every single day.  
And now we’re waiting for our flight to take us back to Nairobi, and on to Malawi tomorrow morning!
Georgia

Kakagewa, Kenya – July 22, 2016



Eggs, chickens and testing under the moonlight

Apologies for the lack of pics but wifi and data here is quite poor! Hopefully, tomorrow we will post from Nairobi a lot of pics as a separate blog.  Tonight we have a competition read through the blog for details.

Hotel Vittoria was clean, comfortable and efficient, maybe avoid the Tilapia curry but otherwise great place for us to stay for a couple of nights in Kisumu.  The day started with a brisk 2 mile run around town for Covi and I.  We definitely elicited a few stares, encountered a couple of cows feasting on garbage and ended with a 100 meter sprint that was a fair tie.  Today Sara, Covi and myself are sharing writing honors as Georgia wrote her blog at a very late hour last night.

Our first meeting was with Kisumu Disabled Self- Help group.  One of the first grantees funded in December 2007 and a recent recipient of one of our six social enterprises grants.  Kisumu Disabled was approved to receive the grant to set up an agribusiness focused on table egg production through layer poultry farming using free range chickens.  Currently, egg production in Kisumu cannot meet market demands and eggs are imported from as far as 400km.  We met with Mildred and Joseph to review how the project was going and see if we could provide any guidance.  I have to admit I could have stayed with this team all day – they took us through their business model from beginning to end and it was fascinating.  Here are the business basics of chicken hatching:

  • Buy 840 1 day old chicks (you need the right chicks) cost of $1 a chick 
  • Nurture them in a warm environment for 14 days
  • Hopefully 700 survive
  • Let’s them roam free around their enclosure for 5 months and feed
  • 5 months old these chickens start hatching eggs – 21 trays a day and 30 eggs to a tray until the chicken is 18 to 24 months old
  • Sell the eggs to local school, hotels, business and distributors (disadvantaged groups should be allocated 30% of all government tenders) – the price fluctuates based on demand
  • When the chickens reach the end of their hatching life they fatten them up and sell them for food – approximately $4 per chicken
  • Buy more chicks and repeat
  • Profits are put back into the business and used to support the HIV prevention activities of Kisumu Disabled

This is a high margin, high returning business.  We visited the farm that is being prepared by contractors to house the chickens and a caretaker who is an HIV positive youth that will now be employed to run this business.  We saw the fence posts being installed and a latrine being dug.  They hope to have work complete in one month and the process will begin.  We gave them advice on branding, marketing, use of refrigeration.   I even attempted to weave big data into the dialogue to help them better take advantage of demand spikes for both eggs and chickens.  Very carefully track what you sell over a one year period and use the data to help you predict demand.  As you get more years under your belt you get better and better data and can start to use predictive analysis (Joseph totally understood the concept).  Clearly around various holidays there are demand spikes.  If they can use refrigeration to manage their own supply they can better serve the market.

I loved spending time with the project, it is exactly what we are trying to do with Social Enterprise.  Mildred and Joseph have dreamed of establishing this business but needed capital to build the very basic infrastructure.  They secured land from Jospeh’s brother and through our funding their dream is becoming a reality.  2 years from now we could have a fully operating 5,000 chicken hatching, rearing and even manure to fertilizer business completely funding an HIV prevention program.  So simple but also quite brilliant. 

Finally, it’s competition time – this business needs a name, something catchy that will grab attention.  The best we got is Eggy Chicken of Kisumu.  Send all ideas to me at johnlevene@gmail.com.

Sara now writing :  The second project we saw today was Men Against AIDS Youth Group (MAAYGO) was the project I was most excited to see this trip and they didn’t let me down. Our fantastic visit started by meeting one of the group’s medical allies, a doctor at the Kisumu Central Medical Centre. We talked a lot about the shocking HIV situation in the area. Kenya’s national prevalence rate is 7%. Pretty high in itself. Here in Kisumu district the figure is 19%. 19% of the population is HIV+. Though there are no local statistics for MSM (men who have sex with men) this figure is likely to be much higher. 

To combat at least some of this, as well as the terrible stigma MSM face in this community MAAYGO, who we’ve funded since 2012, train peer educators to take HIV and safe sex messaging to young people most at risk. They also distribute condoms, refer young people to local health services and provide HIV testing services. We took part in a brilliant and interactive training session where the focus was on sexual, reproductive health and rights. Lots of the conversation was about trying to reduce the stigma attached to being gay. We heard awful stories about young gay men attending health clinics for support only to be humiliated and mocked by the very people they had asked for help. MAAYGO are making headway here in addressing and combating these harmful attitudes starting with health professionals directly. The fact that the safe space the training session was held in was in a medical complex shows their work is having a positive impact. 

Next we met the whole team back at MAAYGO HQ. Waking in, the place put a smile on all our faces – it’s adorned proudly with rainbow flags 🌈🌈🌈 and animal print sofas!  

Talking to Lily and the team we realised how much they have had to endure to make change in their local community. It really has been an eye opening day. Tonight we’re with MAAYGO again for a ‘moonlight testing session’… More on that later. 

But of course no MTV Staying Alive meeting is complete without a selfie session! 

Covi writing:  After a short break we headed back out for our last stop of the day back with the MAAYGO project. We were visiting one of their ‘hotspots’ where there were large numbers of MSM, and Lily and her colleagues had set up a moonlight testing centre where men could test their HIV status in anonymity. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday MAAYGO set up these centers in different hot spots around Kisumu to try and reach as many people as possible, giving counseling before they receive their results and after. Each night the group expected to test around 20 people per counsellor (with 3 counsellors).  

As we got closer, our lovely driver, Enock, began warning us that the area we were heading to was not a safe area. Much to the displeasure of Sara, every five minutes Enock would inform us of another danger; how drunk the people got in the area, how there were thieves in their area. When we arrived at the pop up, a small tent with two counsellors inside, next to a nightclub, I was feeling slightly nervous. As reassuring as the two guards lying half asleep in the corner were, the setting of the small complex surrounded by shacks full of alcohol, bars and brothels did leave me on edge. Each motorbike and passer by going past the trash dump outside looking in to see what was happening made my head turn.
Yet what was really interesting was that Lily and the rest of their team there didn’t even flinch. That, along with her earlier story about how their original offices were ransacked by police and their team charged with possession of sexual orientation material, made me realize how brave they are. These people live in a society that has done everything possible to shun them, make them feel unwelcome, yet they keep on going despite the dangers they face daily and this bravery made MAAYGO a really amazing project to see.

Quick update on tonight’s testing – Tonight they tested 42 people of which 15 tested positive.

Back tomorrow with more.

John, Sara, Covi and Georgia

Kisumu, Kenya – 21st July 2016

How many can fit in the back of the car!

One happy person who gets to ride upfront


“2 million new infections every year for 5 years”

Georgia here. I’m back in Kisumu, Kenya for the first time since 2007 when we went to see the Kisumu Disabled Self-Help Project, which was one of our very early grantees… and I can’t wait to see them later today to see how far they’ve developed their project since I was last here.
But my brain is still shifting gears from the International AIDS Conference that I’ve just come from in Durban, South Africa. These Conferences are crazy – not only do the sessions start at 7am but the rooms are standing room only (at 7am…who does that?!). You get to meet face to face with people you can usually only Skype with, and catch up with wonderful people you only ever see at these conferences, every other year for the past 2 decades (yes, I’ve been doing this for a long time). You have so many meetings to fit in, your schedule is in 15 minute increments. And while there’s a cautious air of optimism (because there has to be), the reality is pretty damning: 
– Global funding for HIV/AIDS is decreasing, at a time when the world can least afford not to invest in it. 

– There have been 2 million new infections every year for the last 5 years. That’s not a number that’s slowing down. 

– If you’re a girl…well, metaphorically, you’re screwed. In South Africa, a girl aged 15-19 is 8 times as likely to be HIV+ then a boy the same age; and AIDS is the leading cause of death for girls aged 10-24. 

– Death rates among adolescents from AIDS has increased by 50% – when all other demographics are decreasing. Adolescents are the invisible cohort of AIDS and the world has let them down. 

So in among the optimism (cautious, remember) about treatment keeping your viral load so low that you’re no longer infectious. And that PrEP works (Pre-exposure prophylaxis, taken (everyday, just like the Pill) by someone who is high risk for HIV infection) – now we just need to make it freely available; in amongst all that optimism, there’s a fear, and an anger, and a passion that we need to be doing much – much – more if we ever hope to see this mythical “end of AIDS”.  

For me, what continues to be so damning, despite all the amazing scientific advances, and the talk around innovation (including a discussion led by my 17 year old son, Covi, about how to harness PokemanGo and have PokeGyms outside Health Clinics)… is the continued reticence that the world has in talking about sex. This may seem too simplistic for some but when the Vatican still doesn’t want to officially talk about condoms; Russia won’t deal openly and positively with drug users; most of Africa continues to criminalise gay men; and parents and teachers and community leaders do not want to talk openly about sex… we will never, ever make progress. 
Rant over. But as John, Sara, Covi and I go and visit 6 projects this week, and see amazing in-roads being made within communities, with projects that have been designed and led by young people from the ground up; don’t forget any of the above stats & facts…because they’re important. 
Georgia
Kisumu, Kenya 21st July 2016