Learning to live without fear

Chikanda, Melissa, and Said — clients with HAPA Kenya. Images from HAPA Kenya's documentary, Caring for You.

As sex workers in Kenya’s coastal region, Chikanda and Melissa risk violence and imprisonment to support themselves.

Melissa left home at a young age, and turned to sex work on the highways of Kenya’s coastal region to survive. After being beaten by a client and arrested, Chikanda endured a six-month jail sentence that led to isolation and ridicule from other inmates.

When a violent assault and robbery left Said terribly hurt, fear of police recrimination kept him from reporting. He’s been denied HIV treatment and confronted with hateful, homophobic stereotypes about living with HIV as a gay man.

All three are clients at HIV & AIDS People’s Alliance of Kenya, or HAPA, an SLF partner who provides sexual and reproductive health services for men who have sex with men, male sex workers, and transgender people in Kwale, Mombasa, and Taita Taveta, near Kenya’s coast.

The very existence of HAPA’s clinic is an act of defiance.

The clinic at HAPA is the first of its kind in Kenya’s coastal province and its very existence is an act of defiance in a country where LGBTIQ people have no legal protections and live under constant threat. It operates in a secure compound to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers, and clients.

HAPA’s clients are consistently denied services at public health facilities, and often endure humiliation after disclosing their sexual or gender identity at local hospitals. Public health facilities often can’t — or won’t — provide basic health supplies such as condoms and lubricants.

At HAPA, clients have access to appropriate health care, including 24-hour HIV testing and counselling. Survivors of violence, or those living with HIV, receive care in their home. People like Melissa, Chikanda, and Said are empowered with the strength and knowledge to report homophobic attacks to police and seek the justice they deserve.

Through The Right to Health and Healing — a two-year project to provide inclusive, quality mental health and well-being support for six LGBTIQ organizations in Kenya and Uganda — HAPA is providing staff, who are frequently exposed to their clients’ trauma, with group psychology sessions. They are training HAPA outreach workers in counselling, and training public health care workers to care for their community’s mental health needs.

And, they are creating a community for Melissa, Chikanda, and Said. Thanks to HAPA, “I have friends,” says Melissa. “I get health services at any time. I have freedom to move around without fear.

I would like to tell those who have gone through similar situations to mine and are living with HIV, that it is not the end of life…. Know that you are not alone. Life goes on, and it will be better.”

The Right to Health and Healing is supported by the Government of Canada’s Act Together for Inclusion Fund, and is managed by Equitas in partnership with Dignity Network Canada.