Tackling HIV: Boosting small businesses in Kenya

Through our HIV project in Thika, Kenya we're transforming the livelihoods of older people and the children in their care by offering alternative options to sex work and drugs. We're giving them skills and start-up grants to start their own businesses.

The impact of HIV

Gakunga, 60, with a cow she bought with a HelpAge grant Gakunga, 60, cares for seven orphans and a husband with HIV. She used a HelpAge grant to buy a cow. Proceeds from the milk will pay for medicines and basic supplies. (c) Frederic Courbet/HelpAge International Thika district has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Kenya − a third of the population are estimated to be living with HIV.

Thika town is a busy commercial hub and a major overnight stop for many truck routes. This means sex work is commonplace and consequently the number of HIV cases has increased dramatically.

Nearly half the town's residents live in abject poverty and this number is on the rise due to unemployment and the impact of HIV.

The land in Thika is unsuited to farming so most people earn an income by brewing alcohol illegally and selling drugs such as cocaine.

How we're tackling HIV

HelpAge is working with our network affiliate HelpAge Kenya to alleviate the impact of HIV and AIDS in one of the poorest areas of Thika.

By training them with the skills and funding to start-up their own businesses, we're giving the people of Thika an alternative to sex work and drugs as a way of earning an income. This ensures older people and their dependants can earn a sustainable living for themselves.

Our experience shows that increased income security directly results in more children attending school, better access to healthcare and better nutrition for the family as a whole.

Each year over the course of the five-year project we will:

  • Give 140 teenagers a £300 grant to start a business of their choice. The grant will cover start-up costs and initial purchases such as tools, cloth or hairdressing equipment.
  • Give 200 multi-generational households business training and grants of £200.
  • Give 390 people from multi-generational households business training and information on HIV prevention.

Project aims (2008-2013)

By the end of the project:

  • 250 teenagers will have acquired vocational skills to start their own business or get a job.
  • 700 orphans will have established a small business and be able to support themselves and their families.
  • 1,000 households will have developed secure income after receiving grants and business training.
  • 1,950 people will have acquired skills and confidence to effectively run their own businesses and acquired knowledge about HIV and AIDS.

Veronica: A healthy business means healthy grandchildren

Veronica pours tea in her cafe Veronica supports her grandchildren through the cafe she opened with a HelpAge grant Frederic Courbet Veronica's daughter died as a result of AIDS in 2006. She now cares for her two grandchildren, who were four and two at the time.

She said: "Their biological father lives in this town, but he has a drinking problem. He and my late daughter separated before she died."

Veronica took the grandchildren in and now looks after them as their primary carer. First off, she made sure they were tested for HIV. "The children are not infected," she says. "I am thankful for that."

To provide for her grandchildren, Veronica started selling bananas. But because of prolonged droughts her business failed.

However, being a resourceful and determined woman, she developed a new, better business idea and approached HelpAge for a loan, which she received. With it, she opened a small eatery in Mangu town which she called the Classic Café.

Every day, Veronica goes to her café early in the morning to prepare tea and snacks for her morning customers as well as wholesome traditional Kenyan dishes based on maize, rice and beans.

She normally closes around 7pm.

HelpAge also gave Veronica school uniforms, blankets and mosquito nets.

She says: "The children are not as hungry as before because I am able to provide food for them and educate them. It is good to see them healthy."

Watch this short film to see our HIV project in action



Useful links

Read more about our HIV and AIDS policy work.

How we're alleviating the impact of HIV and AIDS in Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania.

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