Over 13,000 Reached as Catholic Nuns’ HIV/AIDS Project in Kenya Marks 20th Anniversary

Sr. Florence Muia, Founder of Upendo Village, an HIV and AIDS project in Kenya. Credit: Sr. Florence Muia

Close to 14,000 people have benefitted from ASN Upendo Village, a HIV and AIDS project started by the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) 20 years ago to provide support to people living with HIV in low-end settlements around Naivasha in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Nakuru.

Speaking to ACI Africa ahead of the Friday, January 26 anniversary celebration of ASN Upendo Village, Sr. Florence Muia, who started the facility in two dilapidated and abandoned classrooms said that the ASN members’ project is celebrating the resilience of the people that the Sisters serve.

“We are celebrating the orphans and other vulnerable children we serve. We are celebrating grandmothers and grandfathers who have been caring for orphaned children after parents succumbed to AIDS. The people we serve have been able to live positively. It is a time to celebrate for everyone at Upendo village,” Sr. Muia said in the Wednesday, January 24 interview.

She added, “We have seen the hand of God because when we were starting, we didn't know exactly the extent into which these services would take us. But over the years, we continued to respond to various needs as they evolved within the same program, and we have continued to expand. For us, 20 years is a big achievement.” 

On the list of activities scheduled for the January 26 celebration is a tree planting ceremony, which the Local Ordinary of Nakuru Diocese, Bishop Clephas Oseso Tuka, will officiate.


Bishop Oseso is then set to bless buildings at ASN Upendo Village, including the facility’s recently constructed income generating water bottling facility. 

“The Bishop will also commission our solar plant. Our solar facility is our response to the global warming menace. It is our main source of energy,” Sr. Muia told ACI Africa.

ASN Upendo Village started serving people living with HIV in 2003. At the premise, four ASN members and a staff of over 30 members, including hospital workers and community volunteers run educational, nutritional, health and economic empowerment programmes that target people infected with or affected by HIV.

There is an education programme for vulnerable children, a nutrition programme, a grandmothers’ project for elderly women who take care of orphaned children and a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT) for HIV positive mothers aimed at ensuring they do not infect their children during breastfeeding.

Records that ACI Africa saw in 2020 indicated that the project had impacted 13,501 individuals, including HIV infected individuals and people close to them. These included 2,387 women, 795 men and 367 children who had been born with the virus. The outreach programme had also helped 6,892 orphan vulnerable children whose parents died from AIDS.

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In the January 24 interview with ACI Africa, however, Sr. Muia clarified that those reached by the project are over 14,000 as the facility marks two decades of existence.

The project has also funded hundreds of income-generating projects including chicken and goat rearing, as well as farming for its beneficiaries. Dozens of households in the project have also been given beehives to practice bee-farming in areas around Naivasha while others have been trained in crafts to make mats, bags and other artistry for sale. 

ASN Upendo Village is a community of support groups, including four groups for HIV positive men and women, two support groups for grandmothers taking care of children whose parents succumbed to AIDS, one group for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT), one group for professionals and one group for discordant couples. 

Finally, there are two support groups for HIV positive teenagers and children.

“As HIV positive teenagers discover themselves and try to forge relationships with uninfected people, they face rejection and many other challenges. Actually, without support, this is a group that is most likely to go into depression,” Sr. Muia observed in the February 2020 interview with ACI Africa.


“Upendo” is a Swahili word for “love”. The idea of ASN Upendo Village was conceived during the dark days of HIV and AIDS in Kenya when infected people faced the highest degree of stigma.

In the interview with ACI Africa in 2020, Sr. Muia recalled that those infected in the ‘90s at the height of the stigma were secluded even in death. “When those infected with HIV died, they were buried by well-wishers in polythene bags. People feared being infected by getting in contact with the corpses,” Sr. Muia said, adding that over 700 deaths were reported every day nationally.

This was long before then President Daniel arap Moi declared the condition a national disaster, calling the rapidly spreading disease a threat to the country's "very existence".

Acknowledging the reduction of stigmatization against those infected by HIV, Sr. Muia says, “Now we see people living very healthy as opposed to the fears and the rejection that they used to experience.”

“Treatment is also more accessible these days,” the Kenyan Catholic Nun said, recalling how she animatedly lobbied for support of a bill that then Congressman Henry Hyde, U.S House of Representative from Illinois, introduced in parliament to fund HIV treatment in these countries, Kenya being one of them.

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With the availability of treatment and care, the number of orphaned children has also gone down as those infected have been able to live longer and see their children grow.

However, a lot still needs to be done in the fight against HIV, Sr. Muia says, adding that infections among the young people are especially worrying.

“We cannot say that we have won the war,” she tells ACI Africa, and adds, “Statistics keep showing us the vulnerabilities that still exist especially among the young people. This, I think, is because you can never tell who is infected because people look very healthy as opposed to past decades.”

“The fear that was there those years seems to be diminishing. We cannot relent in the fight especially through education among the young. We still have to continue the fight,” the Kenyan ASN member emphasizes.

In one of its future plans, therefore, ASN Upendo Village hopes to invest more time in educating young people in schools on behaviour change in order to bring down HIV infections, she has told ACI Africa.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.