MAMA MERCY. My name is Mercy Joshua, but my community calls me Mama Mercy. I am a mother aged 60 years with 4 children and six grandchildren, a farmer by profession. I went to Kichaka Simba Primary School in 1965-1968. Lateral I joined Ribe Secondary School on 1970-1973. I performed very well and I was appointed as an untrained teacher in Kilifi District for the first time in my life. Since my class performed very well in most of the district and provisional exams, I became famous in the county. I was enrolled in Teachers Service Course (TSC) at Shanzu College while teaching in Navaye primary school ‰ÛÒKwale district. When I married in 1975, things began to change: house core tasks and work in school became a challenge and barrier, my salary was not enough to support my family. 6 years later I decided to resign and Join business in the City of Nairobi. I became a Florist (Planting flowers); I had my green house in East Lands-Guguru town. My business did very well and my family grew happily until in the year 1996, when things started falling apart, there was a major decline market of our product which led to declining of our production due to politics. I returned back to my original Home land, Itinyi village in Nyangara Division ‰ÛÒ Voi District (Taita-Taveta County). My village is located in a semi-arid land; temperatures are extremely high especially during dry season, we only receive short rains twice or once a year and sometimes none. Lack of enough rains has resulted to lack of food and water to the locals who depend on farming to survive. There was a big problem of poverty when I arrived back in 2002, this was due to low production in farms, lack of jobs, Illiteracy, HIV/AIDS stigma, early marriages and Child labor. Young boys; 10yrs of age were put into hard task working to get money in order to feed their families at a very low salary, while young Girls were forced to get married under the age of 15 years, so that the family can get money to buy food. Girl education was discouraged by the culture, no one recognized them, their right was completely abused. I was shocked when I saw a man giving his 13yrs old daughter to a 60 years Old man, just to get few goats! I couldn‰Ûªt let that happen. I thought of starting a group that would advocated on early marriages, child labor, be trained on HIV/AIDS and how people can be trained to be independent by starting small scale businesses. Due to poverty young mothers were involved in prostitution which increased the rate of HIV/AIDS virus infection cases in the community. Many people got infected while nursing their loving ones due to lack of basic nursing skills. Working as individual couldn’tåÊhelp, when I started this campaign many people thought I was crazy, others thought I was doing it for my own benefit, but I stood firm. My aim was to deliver my community out of the cloud of darkness. I was prepared to face any challenge that would come across. I took the matter further to theåÊadministrationåÊwho called a meeting and I was given a chance to address the congregation about my plans towards change. Glad this time it worked, I was permitted to start Imani women group with 60 members. Our objectives were; stop early marriages, child labor, be trained about HIV/AIDS, start small scale business and savings. This was to be done in a sustainable way manner. All women were cooperative; I was chosen as chairlady and immediately we started implementing our objectives. We started our own saving account through merry-go-round and self contribution; we bought utensils, Iron sheets, and a cow to each group member. Everyone was proud of the achievements, it was a good start. Glad World Vision came in and we were all trained as Community Health Workers (CHW) or call us Home Based Care Givers (HBCG). The team began door to door facilitation, canceling and training people on how to handle infected victims, avoid stigmatization, use protection and giving basic maternity care. We became more sensitive to girl and boy child education; we took several uncooperative men to court, they said that, it was their right to decided for their daughter since their tradition allows them to do so. They thought we were confused but I used to prove them wrong. Many peopleåÊdidn’tåÊlike me, but in mind I knew they would appreciate my effort at last. Our group became more effective in the community, we spoke in one voice and eventually everyone began to like it, after seing some changes. In one year‰Ûªs time HIV/AIDS virus infection and death cases declined. It was a great impact that no one thought, it would happen. We became more famous and popular to other organization and stakeholders; we started extending our wings to the neighboring communities. My community surrounds Rukinga Sanctuary which is a home to a diverse range of wildlife species that beautify nature. However due to lack of job opportunities and education to young men most of them became destructive. Poachers could be seen sinking in and out, killing animals for food, bush meat and ivory, cut down trees to make charcoal and building materials for sell to get money. There was dramatic decline of animal species in the sanctuary; some even migrated to find peace in the neighboring National Parks. Wildlife Works (managers of the Sanctuary) åÊpartnered with us and employed most of our local men to be rangers to protect the wildlife; they also opened an EPZ (textiles industrial centre) within the sanctuary, where most of women were employed to work and support their families. We used every single opportunity we had, and the knowledge we gained from Wildlife Works training workshops, to spread the importance of our biodiversity in schools and community meetings. We asked people to become eco-friendly, stop being selfish and look for a long term solution, which will benefit everyone. Our first priority was to stop people from deforestation and poaching, we wanted them to know they can benefit even without killing the animals or cutting the trees; tourism was the best example we could give. Gradually the destruction declined and the sanctuary stabilized. I acknowledge the effort of Rod Dodson (General Manager Wildlife Works) for deeply getting involved with my community through him our school infrastructures was improved and those who performed well in exams were taken for further education, before then we used to have no graduates. He also introduced us to Camp Kenya the pride of Imani community;åÊwe’veåÊnever worked so closely to volunteers as such before, until Mr Simon (Director Camps International Africa) granted us the opportunity. Camp Kenya has been on front line in supporting community development and sustainability in my community. We receive various groups of Volunteers ranging from summer teams, Kijana/international school, Leap, Gapers and Life clients, who work with us in various projects e.g. improving school infrastructures through construction work, community projects such as farming and bead work as well as sports. After projects work the volunteers have plenty of time to go round the village, visit families and interact with the locals, learn about their culture and challenges they face in the community. Some of the volunteer‰Ûªs voluntary fund either a complete house for a needy families in Imani, sponsor a child to school or do anything that they think will change someone‰Ûªs life.This is a fantastic idea! Camp Kenya has brought a big change to our community and we are all proud of it. We used not to receive visitors from a broad, but now we do; they stay with us for few days or more. They also established Imani Camp, which is operated by the Women from the group during summer season. I‰Ûªm looking forward to continue standing for the rights of young people. I want them to enjoy the freedom of education, which will contribute in community development and sustainability. I believe the change will have a great impact in poverty reduction in many families in my community. I would like in a special way to thank all our volunteers who decide not to stay in five star Hotels, but lower themselves down and spent their time tirelessly to help the poor community in Imani. Asante !!!!   Compiled by Peter Kalenga Kai