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Momma Helen—a local probation officer in Ugenya—sums up the problem best. “A lot of girls in this area are taken out of school to become housemaids, and it doesn’t really guarantee them a life. It just perpetuates the cycle of poverty in their lives. Their mothers were poor, they will also be poor.” Ugenya is a region located in Southwestern Kenya. It is populated by some of the most resilient, hardworking, and intelligent people in the world. Despite this, it is ridden with several structural problems. Among these are widespread poverty and an HIV incidence rate of close to 20%.
Momma recognizes the fact that Ugenya needs more than a ‘bandaid’ solution—we need to break the cycle of poverty. Inspired by our fiscal sponsor, Empowerment Works, Inc., the Zuia Project seeks to empower community members in Ugenya through a Whole Systems approach. A system, according to ‘The Systems Thinker,’ is defined as “a group of interacting, interrelated, and interdependent components that form a complex and unified whole.” We hope to treat Ugenya as the complex system that it is. Poverty contributes to the HIV epidemic, as does a lack of education and disempowered women. HIV exacerbates poverty, and is the reason why many young girls are pressured into dropping out of school. All of these interacting problems are detrimental to the overall health of the whole.
Founded in July, 2011 by Colorado College students in collaboration with citizens of Ugenya, the Zuia Project offers four, interdisciplinary programs. The project includes a Civic Engagement program for women; an Information Technology center; a vocational training center for disenfranchised young girls; and an HIV Health Outreach Program. Our project seeks to empower the youth and women of Ugenya to take charge of their livelihoods and their community through capacity building, economic empowerment, education, civic engagement, and art. Our recent achievements include 7 currently enrolled vocational training students, 44 graduates from our subsidized Microsoft Office classes, 42 currently enrolled students in subsidized computer classes, and 552 participants in our Health Outreach Program. In the long run, we hope that someday our Whole Systems approach to treatment can be a model for similarly multifaceted and complex problems throughout the world. For more specific project details, please see the documents attached below.