I’m loving the time I’ve been spending at the Mathare North City Council HIV Clinic. To say it’s been an eye-opening experience is a complete understatement. Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums, holds over half a million people living in some of the most abject poverty imaginable. To put things in perspective, the average monthly rent that people living in Mathare pay is around 500ksh, or around 6 US dollars.
The City Council provides free HIV and tuberculosis care to the residents, and I’m lucky enough to have the chance to go to the clinic a couple days a week. The building is dark and in a state of disrepair, but its services are so desperately needed that women and their children fill the waiting room each morning with dozens more overflowing outside into the hot Kenyan sun. I was so surprised to find that there’s a ray of hope inside the HIV clinic– in what should be the most desperate, hopeless place of the building there is laughter, friendship, and sunshine. This is due almost completely to the mentor mothers, the lifeblood of the slum’s HIV program. The mentor mothers are all HIV positive and spend their time counseling newly diagnosed HIV+ women, showing them living proof that surviving and thriving with the virus is possible. They are especially focused on helping their patients have HIV negative babies, which is the part of the program I’m involved in. Without this resource, many of the HIV+ women would be completely and utterly alone– the disclosure rates are heartbreakingly low at Mathare; almost none of the women have told their partner or any of their family or friends that they are positive. This makes the mentor mothers program such a crucial support system- the mothers are often the only people that the patients feel they can talk to and trust about the roller coaster they’ve just been thrown on of a new HIV diagnosis.
SWEET CHARITY: THE JOSIE MARAN MODEL CITIZEN CAMPAIGN
Josie Maran joins forces with Mary Alice Onyura, founder and executive director of ESVAK Community Development Initiatives in Kenya.
Every year, Josie Maran creates a limited-edition beauty line to benefit a charity connected to somebody she calls “a model citizen of the world—someone who proves that doing good is a beautiful thing.” This year’s products are special African red rooibos-scented versions of her Whipped Argan Oil Body Butter, Argan Cleansing Oil, and 100% Pure Argan Oil. And this year’s model citizen is altruistic Kenyan community leader Mary Alice Onyura. The Sephora Glossy caught up with both trailblazing, community-minded women to hear more. BECKY PEDERSON
How did you two meet? MARY ALICE ONYURA: I met Josie during the Empowerment Workshop at the Empowerment Institute. She made the bold and courageous step to visit [with me in] Kenya and not only observe but also actively participate in the training of the poorest of the poor women in Mathare, the oldest slum in Africa. JOSE MARAN: Mary Alice is a force of nature. When I met her, her passion, courage, and commitment to empower women in some of the darkest places in the world moved me deeply. I am so happy to recognize and honor her as a Model Citizen.
What charity are you supporting this year? JM: Ten percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Imagine Initiative to support women’s empowerment globally. In addition, proceeds will also provide Mary Alice with a $25,000 prize to further her work. MO: I am founder and Executive Director of ESVAK Community Development Initiatives, a national NGO [that partners with the Imagine Initiative]. Currently, ESVAK works with marginalized rural and urban women in 24 of the 47 counties in Kenya.
You two also filmed a documentary together, Imagine: I Am And I Can. JM: The film came about after I was introduced to the Imagine Initiative. I was incredibly inspired by the work the women of the initiative and blown away by the results they were having. You can see it when it comes out on Mother’s Day.
How did you settle on this scent for the products? JM: I’ve been a big fan of red rooibos tea for a long time. When we asked Mary Alice to be our Model Citizen, I asked her what scents she loved and she said African red rooibos, so I knew that it was meant to be!
Can we talk about the concept of beauty in Kenya? How do women value beauty products? MO: Kenyan women like a beautiful, youthful look. They work hard to maintain this. The cosmetics industry is booming with emerging products. The Kenyan woman is currently more inclined to [try] products that contain more natural ingredients.
Just like Josie is! Do you think women can use their beauty to feel empowered? MO: I most definitely think so. A beautiful skin is a sign of inner health. A healthy woman is attractive to others. [Receiving] appreciation from others gives a person confidence, which correlates to achievement.
So you think outer beauty is a reflection of inner beauty? MO: Without inner beauty, there can be no authentic outer beauty. Inner beauty is strength, confidence, kindness, selflessness, compelling vision, hard work, passion…. If you feel good on the inside, it easily shows on the outside.