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Morans ditch tradition to join fight against HIV

By RAWLINGS OTIENO | October 5th 2013


It never occurred to a good number of Maasai morans that they could be susceptible to HIV/Aids.

To many from that community, Aids was an ailment for the Luos, Luhyas, Kikuyus and those that embraced urbanisation. It was a topic long discussed and left to worry others, but not them.

For many, there has not been need for protection whenever they had sex, even if it involves multiple partners. That still happens in some places.

This could have aided the spread of HIV/Aids among the pastoralist community that also practices nomadism whenever pasture is limited.

The traditional Maasai man would not be offended if he returned from the grazing field and found a spear outside his door. It only means another man is busy sexually satisfying his woman in his own house.

One was allowed to pitch camp in the next available house, with another man’s wife and do the same, and that sequence could be endless.

Today, however, a Maasai woman’s worry is what her man is likely to carry with him after days away in the grazing fields.

Risky behaviour

Mamatini Sironik says it is difficult to tell her husband to use a condom whenever he returns after days of pastoralism.

The 46-year-old mother of seven admits that when the men go out to look for pasture, chances are they will indulge in risky sexual behaviour.

“Sometimes I worry because you don’t know who your husband has met out there. But we just trust that everything is ok,” Sironik says.

This, coupled with lack of easily accessible healthcare for residents of the remote Sekenani village, as well as limited education on matters HIV and Aids, could have worsened the situation.

But morans from Mara Division, Narok County, broke the silence and took the matter into their hands. Starting with their peers, they educated the masses on HIV/Aids.

For two years now, John Kui, 26, has been leading the onslaught in the exercise. It has not been a walk in the park, especially for a community that has held its fabric of tradition and culture together for years.

When Mr Kui started assembling the young Morans to educate them on the need to get tested for HIV, he encountered hostility.

“They used to ask me to denounce my girlfriend first before talking to them about check-up,” says Kui.

The volunteer community health worker says the morans felt that behavioural change was not important.

“The youth would ask how I could help them if they were found to harbor the virus,” says Kui.

But now things have changed in the Orboma-Sekenani village more than 60km South of Narok town.

The Orboma, Maasai for Manyatta, has more than 350 people, majority being women and children, while men and young boys go out to take care of the hundreds of animals.

Lack of awareness

At Orboma, we find the women and children seated under a tree, making beads. This is also the time the young girls are taught the culture and tradition of the community.

Our presence seems to have disturbed the serene and calm that exists in the closely-knit community.

But they ease when Kui greets them in the Maa language and soon some step forward to be interviewed.

Sekut Raphael, 17, says that constant peer education in the Orboma has helped young people abstain from sex or stick to one girlfriend.

“We constantly inform our peers that HIV is real and that anybody can get infected,” says Sekut.

His peer and confidant Simon Muli, 18, a student at a school in the Rift Valley, echoes his words.

Mr Muli says lack of awareness about the scourge and its ramifications has been a pointer to new infections in the area.

“People are not aware of the issues concerning HIV. Lack of education among some of the youth can also be blamed,” says Muli.

He says Kui has been on the forefront of educating the youths on the use of condoms to reduce the risk of contacting the deadly virus.

Despite several interventions by the government, the women in this part continue to face a high risk of being exposed to HIV, as they are left with children as their husbands travel with animals in search of water and pasture.

According to the Ministry of Health, the area is served by one health facility, which is visited by a clinical officer from Olulunga District Hospital once a fortnight.

The nomadic lifestyle of the Maasai who make up much of the population has forced the government, with the help of AphiaPlus and LVCT, to start a mobile HIV voluntary, counseling and testing service.

“Accessing health services here is a nightmare. You have to visit a place like this to appreciate how poor infrastructure affects provision of services,” says Mrs Sironik.

Ready to learn

Kui says teaching the youth and the women on the reality of HIV/Aids is mainly targeted during celebrations such as rites of passage, which comes seldom.

“The youth are ready to learn but the challenge is time and the absence of health facilities. Besides, most of the youth here can only listen to someone who they can identify with, one of their own,” says Kui.

Raising awareness

According to the APHIA Plus Programmes Officer of Narok County Wycliffe Kokonya, the county’s HIV prevalence now stands at 4.1 per cent and is stabilising, owing to the continuous education and raising awareness that the virus is real.

“Before the Maasai’s believed that HIV is for other tribes,” says Mr Kokonya.

Lack of education, good roads, inadequate health facilities and insufficient health care givers in the vast semi-arid county has slowed down the process of reaching the youth in the interior villages.




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