Before arriving in Malaba as a Kiva fellow, one of the assumptions I had about the businesses is that they would be entirely profit driven. Considering the economic situation that most of the clients here are living in, I could only imagine that people’s efforts would be entirely focused on making enough money to support their own family. I have met a few people who have shattered this misconception.

One of those people is Mark Ochubi, who has provided herbal medicine to over 500 clients in Malaba for the past three years. Mark trained at the School for Alternative Medicine in Kenya, and uses herbs from all over the country to treat the multitude of health problems that Malaba faces, including syphilis, typhoid, stomach ulcers, arthritis, sickle cell anemia, malaria, AIDS, and asthma. While herbal medicine has been stigmatized and rebuked by many because of colonialism, traditional herbal medicine plays a crucial role in health care in Africa. Many maintain that its effectiveness has been proven over thousands of years, and people continue to trust it for their urgent medical needs with success.

Malaba is a border town with Uganda, and serves as the gateway to Eastern and Central Africa. Consequently, there is a constant flow of trucks passing through the town, and spending the night. Malaba’s role as a truck stop, paired with its serious poverty, has resulted in rampant prostitution, and as a result a rampant HIV infection rate. Mark explains that Malaba is one of the towns most affected by HIV-AIDS in Kenya, and estimates that over 50 percent of the inhabitants are infected. (When he told me this, I was absolutely shocked. I had been staying in Malaba for the 4 weeks, and no one had even mentioned the prevalence of HIV in the town. Beyond being shocked, it made me reconsider the time I had been spending in Malaba. How could I have gone on conducting interviews and trying to get a real perspective on businesses without knowing this crucial fact about the community. I really felt as if I had been walking around blind for four weeks. My shock turned to skepticism about the validity of Mark’s estimate. When I asked the people in the PEMCI office if they believed it was true, many of them thought that it was at least 50%. I really was in disbelief—walking around, I would have no idea that the community was so devastated by the epidemic. Maybe I’m incredibly naïve, but I haven’t seen any funerals, and there is no sense of tragedy, or even death. Its not something that is really even talked about, which I would expect if it were affecting so much of the community. There’s an NGO in Malaba that addresses the epidemic, and I’m going to try to confirm the statistic.)

Back to Mark—he directly addresses the problem of HIV-AIDS in Malaba by providing healthcare to those people who suffer from it. In fact, he tells me that many of his clients have tried the ARV treatment from health clinics, and have even come to prefer his herbal treatment.

In talking to Mark about his business, he made it clear to me that profit was a secondary motivation. Yes, at the end of the day he wants to make enough to support his family, but his principle goal is to serve the community. That is why he allows for a sliding scale of costs so that his treatment can be available to as many people as possible. This has been essential in allowing him to serve 500 people over the past three years.

Another social entrepreneur that I have come across is Florence Kaluuba, who left a job as a teacher at a prestigious secondary school to start empowerment programs for young women who are dropouts, teen mothers, or come from troubled homes. You can read more about Florence in my Kiva journal for her.

Comments

am a social worker born in malaba uganda and i have lived in both sides of malaba - uganda and kenya. the situation now is actually more alarming than you have described. its had to tell because the majority of the people in these two malabas are ever on transit and those who stay there actually come for greener pastures. so when they fall sick or die, u shall never know because they are transported back to their ancestral homes for treatment or burial. the indigenous population particularly the youth has been wiped out,child labor is at its peak now as prostitution has claimed the girl child mostly. so there is need for serious intervention other than just paper work that ends up gathering dust in beautiful office shelves. in malaba there is a special fee for protected sex and live sex and girls worry much about pregnancies than HIV -AIDS! the introduction of ARVT has made the situation worse because every body is nice looking with hope for more life ahead. so why worry about AIDS you can manipulate?

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Max Schoening My name is Max Schoening, and I’ll be a Kiva Fellow in Malaba, western Kenya for the next six weeks. I’m part of a team of six students from Brown University that will be posting updates onto Kiva.org, as well as making a short movie about Kiva to show at the Clinton Global Initiative Summit this fall. Along with being Kiva Fellows, we are also the Brown chapter of a national organization called Students of the World. Students of the World (www.studentsoftheworld.org) is an organization with a mission to send college students to developing countries in order to document creative solutions to problems affecting the developing world. After extensive research this year, we chose Kiva because of its innovative approach to micro-finance that addresses a lack of capital that microfinance institutions have to work with. Three of the students will be volunteering with KMET, located in Kisumu, a small city off of Lake Victoria. The rest of us are working with Peoples Micro-credit & Investment Bureau (PEMCI), a small but rapidly growing micro-credit institution servicing previously ignored communities in the Teso District.
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