“We will be lost.” Nelson, an HIV counselor, recounts about the recent news that funding for antiretroviral drugs or ARVs for HIV positive patients-may slow or stop, from the United States. In the early 2000’s the Bush administration began the PEPFAR program, ( President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ) which provides relief in many different ways ranging from funding projects, paying directly for medicine, and even funding individual Peace Corps Volunteers. Yet with the world feeling the pinch from the recession, the PEPFAR and other aid organization may not have the resources to continue.
Nelson sits in his office within a testing clinic, which provides testing services to Kenyans for free. He has managed the office for 4 years now, and has counseled HIV positive patients who have survived from the life-saving ARV’s. The afternoon light trickles in as a group of teenagers come waltzing in- for a prevention drama they are preparing.
“It seems the trend of helping people with AIDS has passed,” he says eyeing as the teens walk by. Grants that provide 200,000 people with the ARV’s will expire soon, and Nelson and the rest of his staff wait for the news on whether or not the program will continue.
He stares at the palm of his hand, when asked about the future of the patients who may be refused medicine due to cut backs “we could change this,” he says still staring into his answerless hand.
“ We rely too heavily on aid, we thought that the funding would never end, so we never planned for how to help these people ourselves, and now what will happen?”
The power and influence of aid is undeniable, when former President Bush established PEPFAR, he chose to fund mostly faith based organizations, in particular ones that stressed abstinence above all else. The press also regarded the establishment of PEPFAR as a response to an approval rating gone sour, whether or not that was the case, the influence of aid is undeniable.
“ In Kenya we have some money, we could of set-aside money for funding, and make our own policies.” With the world reeling from a recession HIV/AIDS is becoming an expensive disease, comparatively to water sanitation, or malaria. The future of HIV/AIDS is yet to be seen, but for Nelson has one request for the future “ I want Kenyans to start thinking of Kenyans.”
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my many months here is just how complicated aid can be. As a volunteer it is something I come across daily; many people believe because I am a mzungu that I am a walking ATM; whether it be in the form of trying to charge me triple the price that they would charge a Kenyan, or demanding that I give them money, it stems from the belief about aid. It’s easy to get irritated with the constant demands for money; especially since I make the same wages as a Kenyans teacher, it easy to say to people that they should help themselves; but my time as a teacher has taught me, never assume anything—everything is learned, in one way or another. I have read several books about the topic (if you are especially interested read Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo a Zambian economist believes that the thought of aid working is a myth), and yet I have this resounding feeling that aid must continue. HIV/AIDS continues to ravage this continent; and the alternative (ceasing aid); well it is just too grim to imagine.
I am always reminded of the parable about the man throwing star fish into the ocean, when one man suggests that he could never save them all, he replies how the one thrown back in feels. I do feel aid should continue, but it needs to be responsible; and more then anything—sustainable! I believe more then anything that education is sustainable; by helping one person you can help a whole population, small change does not make the news; but it is the most powerful. I see many projects with donors wanting to see computer labs, or libraries, they want to see tangible results instantly; but I’ve seen libraries that are never touched, computers that are locked away, deemed too nice to be used, or lack of personnel who know how to use or maintain equipment. Yet the one who gives; is the ones that decide what happens—regardless of the results.
Aid is complicated; quite like most things in life, and I was quite naïve to think otherwise; yet I still think aid is respectable. I choose to help one of my students to go to secondary school; but after careful thought and reflection. I believed in him, in his ability, and ultimately I believe his education would be a make sustainable impact on Deaf Kenyan community; one child at a time. He is now number two in his class, and I have faith that he will continue to succeed. I know I will not build any buildings, or have any statues erected in my honor, but I do believe I have had an impact on some of these students. Besides, growing up I don’t remember the computers I used, or the libraries I was in, I remember the people who believed in me. And sometimes I can go to bed with smile.