|UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elhadj As Sy administers oral polio vaccine to a child at the Kisumu East District Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya.|
By Kun Li
KISUMU, Kenya, 12 April 2010 – At age 22, Judith Siji already has three children of her own and a stepson. When her husband died from AIDS-related causes several years ago, she had to shoulder the burden of supporting the entire family.
To make a living, Ms. Siji collects and sells firewood. She has never received a formal education and walks with a limp. “Life is hard,” she said. “I do temporary jobs, and if I don’t, we just go to sleep hungry.”
Help gives hope
In households like Ms. Siji’s across Kenya, a new UNICEF-supported social protection programme is helping to support families with few resources. These households – some of the most vulnerable in their communities – receive about $40 per month through a cash transfer programme designed to meet their basic needs.
|UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elhadj As Sy and UNICEF Representative in Kenya Olivia Yambi observe household water treatment techniques demonstrated by members of the community in Kisumu, Kenya.|
“When I got the first instalment, the money helped me pay school fees for my children, buy uniforms for them, and also food,” said Ms. Siji. “When the children are sick, I use the money to take them to the hospital. The second instalment came when my house had started falling apart. So I kept the money, and started saving – then I bought materials and rebuilt my house.”
By the end of 2009, the UNICEF-supported cash transfer programme had reached nearly a quarter of a million people in 75,000 Kenyan households.
The effect of this social protection mechanism on the most vulnerable families was apparent to UNICEF’s Elhadj As Sy during his first field visit to Kenya since becoming Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“Here we see a woman who is completely transformed – from a helpless young widow with a disability to a head of a household with dignity,” said Mr. As Sy, following his visit with Ms. Siji and her children.
|During a visit to Kisimu, Kenya, UNICEF's Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa meets Sheri, 7, whose family benefits from a UNICEF-supported social protection programme.|
Like other cash transfer recipients, he noted, Ms. Siji now has the “opportunity to care for her children, care for herself and become an integral member of the society.”
In Nyanza, the province with the highest child mortality and HIV infection rate in Kenya, Mr. As Sy witnessed UNICEF’s efforts to improve access to health care for mothers and children. He also visited health centres such as the Kisumu District Hospital, where young men attended counselling sessions to learn about reducing the chances of HIV transmission.
|Sheri, 7 (centre), stands next to her sister Helen, 5, along with their mother Judith Siji, 22, and baby Elizabeth, 2. Judith is now able to send her children to school and to rebuild her mud house because of the money she receives from a UNICEF-supported cash transfer programme.|
Working with communities
In Kisumu East District, Mr. As Sy visited one community using simple water treatment and safe storage techniques to improve the quality of their household drinking water. With the construction of shallow wells and pipelines – particularly in cholera-prone areas – UNICEF helps communities reduce waterborne diseases and remain cholera-free.
“If we combine community mobilization and community leadership, together with partnership with government, then we can design something that respond to the real needs of people,” said Mr. As Sy. He added that community involvement creates a sense of ownership, which will guarantee sustainability and positive results well into the future.