OneWorld’s People of 2008 Finalist: Pamela Adoyo

Posted on 30 November 2008. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |

This is a World AIDS day post.

WASHINGTON,  (OneWorld) – Pamela Adoyo stands calmly and resolutely at the epicenter of Kenya’s AIDS epidemic. Her women’s group is helping care for the sick, impede the disease’s spread, and stitch back together a community torn apart by the epidemic.

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Womens Group. © New America Media

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Women's Group. © New America Media

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

“HIV/AIDS has affected all facets of Kenyan society with devastating economic consequences,” says the United Nations. The disease has deprived rural areas in particular of many of their most productive members of the community, and made it very difficult for families to earn a sufficient living, further entrenching poverty.

Children orphaned by AIDS increase the economic burden on the families or community organizations that take over their care. Plus, AIDS orphans are likely to miss out on education, and so are more prone to end up engaged in risky behaviors like prostitution and drug abuse. “This completes the vicious cycle of poverty and HIV/AIDS,” adds the UN report.

But the Dago Women’s Group, which Adoyo helped found in 1996, is pushing back against those trends in the country’s southwestern Nyanza province.

About half of Kenya’s 1.4 million annual HIV/AIDS cases originate in Nyanza, says Alexandra Moe, in a recent profile of Adoyo for New America Media.

“For Adoyo and dozens of other Dago women, the generations-long fight for family survival includes leading the battle against HIV and AIDS, one house at a time, in a region that has been ravaged by the epidemic,” writes Moe.

And in this traditionally patriarchal community, Adoyo’s steadfast leadership is also starting to redefine what women “can” and “can’t” do.

EXCERPTS from the New America Media profile, “Village Mentors: How grassroots advocates are leading the fight against AIDS in Kenya

By Alexandra Moe

In a day that starts with the 5 a.m. cow milking and ends at 10 p.m., when her family has finished its dinner, Adoyo squeezes time from her home and family to manage the 45 local women who are caregivers to the sick. Separately, they fan out to 511 households to check on the 365 men and women in the area who are “down” with HIV/AIDS, and the nearly 2,000 AIDS orphans and other children affected by the epidemic….

When a patient has been diagnosed with HIV and has received medication from the local health clinic, Adoyo’s caregivers take over. They make home visits, organize support groups and give comfort when patients phone them in despair. If they visit a home and suspect someone is HIV positive, they make sure all family members and neighbors are tested. They give out their cell phone numbers so that if someone requires urgent medical care in the middle of the night, they can provide transportation to the nearest hospital — a 40-minute motorbike ride, with the patient riding behind.

“You always say ‘yes’ whenever they call,” Adoyo says. “When you say ‘yes,’ that person has all the hope in the world – that you will come, that you are going to help them, that you will advise. If you say ‘no,’ you have already killed them.”…

The mentors — nearly all of them AIDS widows — who stop by throughout the morning treat Adoyo as one would a village elder. They wait patiently for a few words with her, asking for religious guidance and personal advice as well as their daily work assignments….

Mama Maria, center, is a volunteer mother at the Dago Dala Hera Orphange

AIDS struck Dago with a force in the ’90s, ripping apart the social fabric. The government was ill-prepared to cope with the crisis, so the Dago Women’s Group moved in. The women tended to the sick, and cared for the orphans and vulnerable children — the OVCs, as the relief groups call them — left behind by the deadly virus. The needs were great, and resources extremely limited….

But even in the face of such heartbreak, Adoyo takes pride in the progress the Dago Women’s Group has made against the AIDS epidemic. She says they’ve been especially successful in reducing the shame once attached to the disease.

“There was the feeling that, ‘I can’t disclose my status no matter what happened, I can’t say that I am sick because people will laugh at me,'” Adoyo says. “The stigma was high. That was why people were just dying with the disease — they didn’t want people to know.” Many wouldn’t even get tested, she said, contributing to the spread of the epidemic.

“Now they are coming out to say their status. They go to get tested and they say to the mentor, ‘I am negative, or, I am positive.’ If they are positive they say, ‘how can you help me to live positively?'”

Adoyo is most proud of the orphanage the women built, Dago Dala Hera (“Home of Love”), with fundraising assistance from Dago’s first Peace Corps volunteer. On Sep. 24, 20 girls were moved in, cared for by “volunteer mothers,” most of whom are AIDS widows. Plans are being made to take in the first group of boys….

Adoyo’s successes have not come without personal stress. She struggles to balance her traditional duties as a wife and mother, with the meetings and trainings that take her away from the home.

“This is where I say it’s hard,” she says. “An African woman has her work to do, and the work is too much for them.” In the patriarchal order of her village, Adoyo says, a wife has always been expected to follow her husband’s orders without question. That has to change, she says.

“We say, okay, it is good to do this (housework), but now I am going to do this also (work outside of the house),” Adoyo says. “We want women to be part and parcel of the family, the conversation and the decision making, everything.”

Her husband devotes his days to farming and to working on the orphanage. Touring the girls’ dormitory, Duncan Adoyo says he’s proud of his wife’s leadership in the community. “Pamela’s work has been a turning point for the village and a bright start for the present and future generations,” he says. “As the husband I appreciate so much the work and will keep supporting her in the quest to help the villages.”

* This story profiles one of ten finalists for’s People of 2008 award. Vote for your favorite, read more profiles, or tell us about other amazing people on OneWorld’s People of 2008 page.

2008 World AIDS Day statements


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