“Take care of yourself.”
How many times have we heard these words from a family member or friend? We may have shrugged them off without realizing what they give us – a reminder that our lives matter, that we are cared about by others.
These are the words that Judy Kairu offers men and women in Arusha, Tanzania living with HIV/AIDS. After the way that AIDS has devastated so many communities, those who receive a diagnosis often feel hopeless and ashamed. Being HIV positive still carries a strong stigma, which discourages patients from seeking out medical care and alienates them from the support of family and friends.
In the midst of this hopelessness, Judy brings words of life. You only have to meet her once to recognize the light and warmth that radiates from within her. For many years she has led HIV/AIDS support groups in her community, encouraging men and women to keep on living their lives with hope. Judy tells them, There is so much you have to offer society. All you have to do is accept yourself and move on. Take care of yourself. She named her ministry Rising Light.
“If you don’t encourage them, then you realize the potential within them….will do nothing.” Judy shares. “They feel worthless.” After the first several months of weekly meetings, Judy’s words of encouragement seemed to be sinking in. The women told her, “We need food. We need to be enabled.” So, Judy started a micro-enterprise initiative, where they can start their own businesses to earn money and provide food for their families. Together they save and collect payments on loans from each other. They have a variety of businesses, making beads, selling honey or clothes, and raising chickens.
The men of their community saw what a difference these support and enterprise groups were making in the lives of these families, and they approached Judy about starting a group for men. She challenged them to gather together a group of men who were HIV positive and not afraid to talk about it. To her surprise, over 30 men showed up — and listened to her speak!
Now, Judy has two other team members at Rising Light and dreams of creating a center where people who are HIV positive can work on many kinds of trades – welding, pottery, carpentry, etc. She would also like to begin a youth support group for the many youth in her community who are HIV positive. In 2016 and 2017, she attended Loom’s Celebrating Children Workshop in Arusha. There she learned new skills in working with youth who have experienced trauma, how to teach health and hygiene in HIV prevention, and basic organizational skills such as project planning and team communication. We look forward to continued partnership with Judy as we offer more training in social enterprise in the future.
To spend five minutes with Judy is to understand the face of hope. Her humor, dedication, and fierce love for those the community has often ignored reminds the world that there is so much we each have to offer.