Washington — In Kenya, Peace Corps volunteers have been working to end the practice of trading sex for fish, which has perpetuated the spread of HIV/AIDS among communities along Lake Victoria. Women who rely on the trade of fish to support their families are often pressured into prostitution with area fishermen to secure fresh fish.
Since 2011, three Peace Corps volunteers — Dominik Mucklow of Charlotte, Vermont; Michael Geilhufe of Palo Alto, California; and Samantha Slater of Golden, Colorado — have helped local women find financial independence. Working with Kenyan businesses and U.S. federal government partners, the volunteers have acquired boats for women involved in the fish trade and supported the development of their own fishing business.
“When volunteers asked the community members how they think they had become infected with HIV/AIDS, they said the culture of jaboya — or the practice of trading sex for fish — which is prevalent throughout the communities surrounding the lake, could be the reason,” said Slater, a graduate of the University of Denver.
Mucklow and Geilhufe began the project by forming the No Sex for Fish women’s group with 10 local women, and through support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), they acquired six fishing boats. Slater assisted the women in obtaining loans to purchase new fishing equipment and taught them to keep financial records. She also helped them launch three new boats in one of the busiest landings for commerce along Lake Victoria.
“The project has been very well received by the community,” Slater said. “Both the district commissioner and district officer have been advocates and supporters on behalf of the project.”
The group has generated significant interest among the development community, and with the help of fellow volunteers and PEPFAR funds, the volunteers hope the initiative will expand to other beaches along Lake Victoria.
According to UNAIDS, an estimated 1.6 million people die annually from AIDS-related causes. Together with partners like PEPFAR, the U.S. government initiative to help save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world, Peace Corps volunteers work at the grass-roots level to implement effective, sustainable programs that combat the disease. Peace Corps volunteers play a key role in advancing PEPFAR’s mission through programs in approximately 60 posts worldwide.
There are currently 100 volunteers in Kenya working in the areas of education, health and community economic development. During their service in Kenya, volunteers learn to speak the local languages, including Kiswahili, Kenyan Sign Language, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luo and Luyha. More than 5,155 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Kenya since the program was established in 1964.