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.