Tales from a Kenyan village

Local business owner welcomes HIV prevention advocate from Africa

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Kolunga Village Foundation

In September 2005, Mark Ross, naturalist, biologist and safari guide, took nine visitors to Kolunga Village. During the tour, the group learned of the 200 AIDS orphans that lived there with extended family or more often with no adult supervision. Many of the children survived on little more than a cup of tea or a small portion of rice a day.

After returning home from Kenya, the group set up Kolunga Village Foundation. Its mission is to create and implement sustainable projects, as identified by the village residents that provide education, better health and general well-being. Current projects include a health clinic and school sponsorship program. Future projects include water purification, disease prevention and education, malaria nets for prevention, and a school lunch program.

Kolunga Village Foundation is a 501 3 (c) non-profit foundation. For more information or to donate, www.kolungavillage.org.

When Alphonce Okuku met Ingrid Ford in 2001, his village in Kenya was ravaged by HIV, with a high mortality rate.

“People were literally dying like dogs in the street,” Okuku said. “We had to do something about it. I didn’t know what we could do, other than talk about it and take the stigma away.”

Then a young man of 20, he formed the Lake Victoria Youth group to raise awareness of the situation. Although his remote village had no access to HIV testing or condoms, Okuku felt strongly that talking was the first step.

“We wanted to get the word out there that this disease is real, and that it is killing people,” he said.

Ford, who was working for Doctors Without Borders as an HIV and tuberculosis nurse, gave Okuku a ride home one day after he had visited the clinic she worked at to talk about what his group was doing.

“At least 30 percent of the population was infected with HIV,” Ford said. “I began to work with Alphonce and his group as a partnership. We did trainings on how HIV was transmitted, prevention and testing.”

Okuku and Ford went into villages and schools to spread the word. Due to scant resources, however, obtaining HIV testing was nearly impossible.

“Our vision at that point was just to talk,” he said. “You couldn’t even get tested.”

Ford left Kenya at the end of 2001, and Okuku continued his work.

Four years later, he had started the Kolunga Village Foundation. The non-profit group is supported by American partners, and its mission is to create and implement sustainable projects as identified by the village residents, that provide education, better health and general well-being.

On Sunday, Okuku and Ford were reunited after 15 years for a fundraiser at Rushing Water Yoga in Camas, which Ford and husband Paul Cheek co-own.

“Our goal is to raise money to support the foundation as it strives to continue this important work in an area of Kenya so affected by HIV/AIDS,” Ford said. “The work done in the past 15 years has been nothing short of extraordinary.”

Dressed in a pressed white shirt and black jeans, Okuku talked passionately about his work as the foundation’s director.

“During the past 15 years, I have seen life-changing processes take place,” he said. “We have gone from 42 percent of the population dying from HIV to 17 percent. We have a clinic, education information and access to condoms. We have built a school for those children who have been orphaned because of HIV and have started an environmental program, planting trees.”

Photos of Okuku and Ford from 2001, as well as those of the foundation’s projects and the village, were displayed on a poster board inside the yoga studio. Stories written by village children about the devastating affects of HIV were placed along the wall. There was also a video showcasing the work being done in Kolunga Village today.

“The changes have been extraordinary,” Okuku said. “We are really working to make our village a better place for everyone.”