Rukia’s cinder-block home in a Kenyan slum is dark. She cracks the door to let in just enough light to begin her work.
Hour after hour, the 52-year-old grandmother tightly wraps strips of paper into beads, then transforms them into a dazzling array of colorful necklaces and bracelets.
Today, Rukia’s creations have grown into a jewelry-making business that has become an economic boon for her family. Her work represents a remarkable transformation for a woman who, just several years ago, barely had enough money to feed herself, her six children or her five grandchildren.
Rukia is not only an entrepreneur but also a survivor. Her husband infected her with HIV and then abandoned the family when Rukia started showing symptoms of the illness. It was this grim diagnosis and another devastating loss that forced her to search for a new beginning.
Once a devout Muslim, Rukia served at her local mosque, helping with funeral services and burials. But when her own son died, and when she started to get sick from HIV, no one from her congregation came to help her. Heartbroken, she began searching for spiritual meaning. She tried mystic religions but did not find peace. Just as she began to despair, God’s love amazed her.
Members from Compassion’s local church partner in Rukia’s town met with her, comforted her, prayed with her — and invited her to get to know a loving, caring Christ who could carry her burdens. The Word of God taught in the church gave her hope and a renewed motivation to live. When Rukia gave her life to the Lord, it started to take a new direction. And as she embraced Christ, she began to connect with her new church community.
Rukia heard about Compassion at her church and registered one of her grandchildren into Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. Little did she know this opportunity would not only benefit her grandchild but her as well. Rukia was soon connected with a way to extend her skills and influence beyond the walls of her tiny home.
At the church Compassion provides an intensive training program for Compassion-assisted church attendees who want to start a small business. Rukia applied and was selected for the training. After scraping together $5 to invest and develop a business plan, she started her business.
Wendy Ludovici, founder of the training program, says that when members like Rukia are invested on all levels, they begin to think differently about their situations and gain the confidence and skills to rise above them. “People who come out of poverty are people who contribute their own time and money. It empowers them to change their mindsets. They no longer believe they have to wait on others to earn a living.”
Before the training program, Rukia did not have enough money to pay her monthly house rent of $30, monthly food costs of $30, or the $40 per quarter for school fees for her grandchildren. Today, Rukia has more than doubled her income and dreams of making enough money to send all of her children and grandchildren to university. But Rukia’s investment has not stopped at providing for her family.
Rukia mentors more than 100 women in her community, instructing them on how to make handicrafts and run businesses. Rukia also serves as chairwoman of an HIV support group at the church and as a community health volunteer. She talks openly about her HIV status to encourage her neighbors to talk about theirs and lessen the stigma. She also takes antiretroviral medicines provided by the Kenyan government and urges others to do the same. As many as 70 percent of her neighbors are HIV-positive.
“When I go to others’ homes to encourage them,” Rukia says, “I tell them, ‘Here you can see me! I am also HIV-positive. When you become HIV-positive, it’s not the end of living and working.’”