In Kenya, where more than half of young people are unemployed, 22-year-old Boniface Kirang’a has watched many friends in Flax, his hometown near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, get involved in petty crime, partying and drinking alcohol.
But Kirang’a escaped the traps of crime and substance abuse. He went through a two-year automotive mechanic training through APHIAplus (AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance), a USAID-funded FHI 360 program to improve health in 16 Rift counties. Today, Kirang’a is a self-employed car repairman.
As part of its comprehensive commitment to health, APHIAplus prevents and treats communicable illnesses such as HIV, AIDS or tuberculosis; assists families affected by HIV; runs programs to reduce hunger; and develops economic opportunities for the region’s residents.
Like many Kenyan youth, Kirang’a had struggled to stay in school. His father was diagnosed with HIV, and when his condition worsened, the family lost vital income.
“My father started being sickly in 1999,” when Kirang’a was 10 years old. “He had two butcheries, but he shut them down because of his illness. He died in 2003. After my father died, we returned to our original home in Nyahururu [in central Kenya]. We lived in my grandmother’s home. Life was hard because we were many in the family,” he said in Kiswahili.
When the family returned to Eldoret, Kirang’a stayed with a relative until he finished primary school in 2004. The uncle “could not educate me after that. He had seven children of his own. I started keeping chickens, which I sold to buy food and clothes. I also worked as shamba boy,” tending crops in cleared forestland.
But Kirang’a’s uncle got him a scholarship from the Mission Sisters of Mary Immaculate, a community-based organization that partners with APHIAplus. With the bursary, he was able to go to the polytechnical institute, said Kirang’a.
Since graduating from the institute, Kirang’a joined a group of mechanics in the fast-growing town of Eldoret. He’s doing his share to make sure that young people have chances to learn and develop skills. With his knowhow and earnings, he is saving to build his mother a house and pay for his younger brother’s school fees. In the future, he plans to hire three apprentices from the mechanics institute.