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Fishmongering brings self-help to HIV-positive people in Homa Bay

Page history last edited by Rosemary 12 years, 10 months ago

Lela B Self-help Group: fishmongering gives hope to HIV-positive people in Homa Bay, Kenya

The members of Lela B Self-Help Group are mainly HIV positive, among them widows, widowers and orphans. Established in 1992 with 60 members - seven men, 44 women and nine youth – the group has since lost half its members to HIV/AIDS, but not its spirit. The group, which lives and works as a family, was formed because members were facing discrimination within their own families and needed somewhere to belong.

Their main activity of fish mongering, dealing mainly in fish frames commonly known as mgongo waz, in Homa Bay district on the shores of Lake Victoria, benefits individual members, the group and the community as a whole. For example, group member Mama Gertrude starts her day by buying mgongo wazi from nearby Capital Fish Kenya Limited, located 300m away from her stall, and then hires someone to transport it to her stall using mkokoteni (cart) or a bicycle. At the stall, she hires someone to do the washing and somebody else to dry the fish on the racks. She then does the smoking and hires someone to transport fish to the market.

Thus, between the group, they hire up to 240 casual workers, allowing others in the community to provide for their families. The group also buys firewood from the community, repairs the traditional jikos every two weeks, and builds new traditional jikos.

The mgongo wazi business has made it possible for members to build their own houses and acquire poultry, goats, cows, bicycles, mkokotenis and ox ploughs. Some have built their own boats to hire out to local fishermen. The group cares for its members’ needs. If a member cannot afford school fees, other members contribute, and also buy school uniforms if needed. So far, the Group has paid school fees for 23 students and is currently catering for five students in secondary schools. The group takes ill members to hospital and pays the bill, and also takes care of funeral expenses if a member dies. If any of the orphans falls ill, group members contribute to take him/her to the hospital. The orphans are also live with the members as part of their families. Each member is able to pay casual workers and the Municipal Council’s weekly fee, and contribute to the merry-go-round every week. This money is usually given out during meetings, which are conducted every Friday.

The group bought a two acre piece of land on which they grow trees for firewood, papyrus reeds, and crops such as tomatoes, kales and onions that are sold to the community and group members to earn income, and also has built an office and latrines from the proceeds of their farming and fish mongering. The group hopes eventually to buy its own motorboat for fishing so they do not have to rely on Capital Fish Kenya which sometimes increases prices without notice; to buy their own truck so they do not have to rly on expensive public transportation; to obtain machines for milling mgongo wazi and drying fish during the rainy season, when they lose sales because they cannot dry the mgongo wazi; to obtain a solar cooker as firewood is expensive; and to train members in modern methods of smoking fish. HIV/AIDS is a big challenge. This year alone, the group has lost four members, who have also left children that the group must care for. Now they care for 20 orphans, and the number is increasing.

This story is adapted from an article written by Diana Amoll of the Animal Draft Power Program in Homa Bay, Kenya, published in the August 2006 issue (no. 47) of Baobab, which is produced three times a year by the Arid Lands Information Network – Eastern Africa as a forum in which Community Development Workers (CDWs) can share ideas, information and experiences on development approaches. The August 2006 edition focused on success stories of community projects that have contributed significantly to improving livelihoods and overcoming cultural and socio-economic barriers. ALIN-EA was created in 1988 and has more than 1000 members in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

ALIN-Eastern Africa, P. O. Box 10098, 00100 G.P.O, Nairobi, KENYA. Email 


For more stories about children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, see:

African, Canadian grandmothers reach out to help AIDS orphans

Centre brings women together in African slum to care for AIDS orphans

Campaign to educate AIDS orphans in Uganda began with one child's courage

Canadians reach out to help the orphans of Lesotho attend school

Coping with the grief and loss of AIDS: memory projects bring hope to Africa

Kenya women's network focuses on local food sources to support people living with AIDS

Successful model sustains AIDS orphans by rebuilding villages sustainably

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