Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Woman quits accounting job to look after 3,000 HIV orphans in Uganda

By Hope Mafaranga
“I was born in a poor family, raised up in a grass-thatched house and cared for by many people,” says Faith Kunihira, the director of Bringing Hope to the Family, on how she was inspired to take care of HIV and vulnerable children.
Kunihira adds that she was born under a coffee tree and ushered in by her grandmother who was a midwife. An accountant by profession, Kunihira never had any personal savings because most of her money was spent on looking after her siblings after her mother separated with her father.
In 2000 and with only sh5000 to her name, Kunihira left her accounting job in Jinja to go back to her community in Kaihura, Kyenjojo district, to look after HIV-orphaned and vulnerable children. She was inspired by her background and many NGOs that did HIV-related work in Jinja.“I knew the stories of the HIV prevalence in my community. I had no money but I had the brain, was sensitised and knew that I wanted to help people in my locality,” the 40-year-old Kunihira says.

A family friend who lived in Kampala gave her a house where she started doing her work by talking to HIV-orphaned children and widows. What moved Kunihira most was a woman who had lost all of her six children and husband to the virus, and was left with 12 orphans. This was Kunihira’s starting point. “I picked up the 12 children and offered them scholastic materials and in less than a month, I had 68 children,” she says.
Kunihira now provides school fees, scholastic materials, healthcare, livelihood skills and psycho-social support to 3,000 children. She also started a clinic, Hope Again, to provide treatment, counselling and following up on children who are infected. The clinic also caters for teenage mothers and expectant mothers exposed to HIV /AIDS. It now provides treatment and support for 800 people living with HIV, 260 of them children.

Kunihira also pays all the expenses of having all the patients’ tests done which include CD4 count at Joint Clinical Research Council in Fort Portal. “No matter the cost, I have to take care of them. Caring for the disadvantaged is a dream come true for me,” she says. Kunihira adds she does this because she was also cared for by people she was not related to, who gave her a meaningful life. “I have to care for others just like I was cared for. I have passed through many people’s hands, if someone had not cared for me, I would not have been the person I am today,” she said.

Kunihira’s project, which is largely supported by the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, is now building a multi-million hospital to accommodate more patients and save the money she has been spending on rent. Equipping the youth with skills Kunihira has built a farm and vocational school to equip the youth with skills to sustain themselves. At Bringing Hope to the Family, girls are taught tailoring and craft making while boys learn carpentry, welding and mechanics. “We currently have 400 girls under our care. We keep them until they are 18 years to protect them from early marriage, early pregnancies and contracting HIV. We counsel them, teach them about family planning and help them make right decisions for their lives,” she explains.

Kunihira also rehabilitates the youth who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Improving standards of living, Kunihira has supported eight families in Butiti sub-county and 40 more families in Katooke and Kyarusozi sub-counties by giving seeds and teaching them good methods of farming. She also offered 15 wells to the community so that people can have access to clean and safe water. “I give them seeds so they can increase on their harvests and get enough food for their families and sell to earn a living,” she adds. Kunihira has also set up farms and gardens at Kingora village in Kyarusozi sub-county and the village is now a model village where people go to learn modern and improved ways of farming.
Testimonies “I was an idle marijuana man who smoked as if my life depended on cigarettes,” testifies 26-year-old Simple Man Tikitiki. Tikitiki says his life was saved by Kunihira who preached to him and he reformed. “With the help and guidance of Kunihira, I have formed a singers’ group made up of 20 youth. This has helped us generate income for ourselves,” he says. “Bringing Hope to the Family has really brought hope to me. I was hopeless but know I can see the future and I know where I am going,” he adds.

Kunihira, who resisted the pressure of joining politics, says the most significant achievement she has made is helping her community. She adds that creating jobs for 80 people, building a nursery and primary school to cater for vulnerable children gives her joy as well. The major challenges is the sustainability of funds for the project.

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