Inside her tiny office located at Nyamasaria, about 40 children aged below 15 years are putting final touches on some paintings.
Eunice Owino moves around supervising the work. From a quick glance, you may not realize that the children have special needs.
For the past one year, this has been Owino’s focus.
“I did not envision that within this short time the children would be able to master such skills, especially given their condition,” said Ms Owino, the Director of Jiu Pachi, a Community Based Organization (CBO).
The CBO was formed in 2004 to tackle issues around HIV.
“I lost someone close to me to HIV, and I blamed myself that despite the exposure and the knowledge I had on managing the condition, this person had to die,” said Owino.
It was here that she moved to start a program which targeted enhancing knowledge about HIV within Kolwa Central, in Kisumu East.
Ms Owino then registered the organization named Jiu Pachi, Luo phrase meaning ‘Style Up’, with the aim of engaging the communities which continued to perpetrate stigma, hence scuttling the fight against the scourge.
“We began to package information about HIV and its management, and went into the communities to engage people and ensured that we dispelled the myths about the disease,” she said.
She added: “We went to churches, funerals and any other public gathering sensitizing people, and it paid off.”
Ms Owino said uptake of ant-retroviral drugs went up, as well as use of condoms, and testing, and guidance and counselling sessions.
People begun coming out to declare their HIV statuses, and openly discuss their struggles and turning points.
Two years ago, with the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Owino said she discovered that children living with special conditions, such as autism, retardation, cerebral palsy, among others were most hit within the families affected by HIV Aids.
With schools closed, and children sent home, Kenyan parents felt the burden of providing extra care to their children, especially with broken economy created by the lockdowns.
“Children with special needs are already disadvantaged, and when Covid-19 came in, they suffered most as they missed the much needed special care since their caretakers were reeling from the impacts of the pandemic,” she said.
Ms Owino then crafted a program which aimed at engaging the children with special needs through activities which would keep them busy.
She introduced art classes, which included music, dancing, painting, among others.
She used the small space within the organization’s office to host the over 40 children, and brought in artists with special skills which they imparted on the children.
Program paid off
Two years down the line, the results are jaw-dropping, with fancy paintings hanging all over the walls of Jiu Pachi CBO offices.
Ms Owino said she is looking into commercializing the product, and using the money to support the children with special needs.
“People who have come here do not believe that it is these children doing this work. Some of them have already expressed interest to buy the paintings, but we are yet to set their prices. We are working with professional painters to help us come up with prices before we can begin to sell them,” she said.
When Lake Region Bulletin visited Ms Owino’s office, the children were bubbling with joy as each of them spoke passionately about their work.
The children are allowed to independently come up with ideas of what they want to paint, and are then guided on how to play around with the different colours of paints in order to produce paintings on fabric material attached wo wooden frames.
“I feel humbled when I see the children full of confidence and explain their work. We are yet to set themes for our paintings, but we are still focusing on giving them the skills. We can later set out themes and guide them to make paintings with specific messages,” said Owino.
Some of the children are engaged in singing and dancing, and Ms Owino has since brought on board six local musicians to help them with composition of songs and choreography of their dances.
The children will be expected to produce music on various themes.
“Our prayer is to get the necessary support so as to bring to light the hidden talents in these children,” she said.