GMT Grantee Profile:
PEMA Kenya (Mombasa, Kenya)
Improving Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment for Mombasa’s MSM Community
- Offering legal assistance to MSM sex workers
- Sensitizing religious leaders, the media, and healthcare providers
- Holding trainings on how to establish small business, since many gay men and other MSM lack employment
- Creating safe social spaces where LGBTI individuals and MSM can attend support group meetings and peer-to-peer forums
- Providing security training to its members to help identify and avoid threats
- Managing a 24-hour hotline for members
In May 2008, a group of people in Mombasa, Kenya, buried their friend, a gay man who had been shunned by members of his family due to his sexual orientation. They gathered together to give him a proper funeral and to honor his memory. He would surely be very proud to know that these same friends have used his death as the stimulus for starting the first community-based organization in Mombasa that caters to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Upon witnessing the death of their friend, it dawned on this group that they would face the same fate if they did not unite and begin organizing themselves.
They began with the name Brotherhood, appropriate at the time as all original members were gay or bisexual men. But only months later they grew to cater to lesbians and transgender individuals and PEMA Kenya was born. PEMA has a double meaning, with the word meaning “a good place” in the language of Swahili, and the acronym standing for Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved.
PEMA Kenya’s original focus was mobilisation activities that engaged community members to disseminate information on LGBTI-friendly sources of treatment, testing, and counselling. The high HIV prevalence (15 percent) among MSM in Kenya was partly due to the fear MSM had in walking into a health facility with a partner and asking to be treated as a couple. Another early goal included creation of LGBTI-friendly public health facilities.
Over the years PEMA has grown to provide a number of diverse services for the MSM community in Mombasa. In addition to finding safe social spaces for MSM and peer meetings and support groups, PEMA also offers legal advice and assistance to MSM sex workers through an in-house lawyer who helps with their release when they are arrested. PEMA also brings in a local group called Protection Desk Kenya to provide security training since MSM often face violent discrimination, as well as additional support through a 24-hour member hotline.
Recently, with the support of amfAR’s MSM Initiative, the group has begun a new program called Facing Fears, courting leaders in the religious community to promote tolerance outside the LGBTI population. The program involves working with religious leaders, many of whom do not approve of homosexuality. “Even with Mombasa’s religious fundamentalism nature,” says Esther Adhiambo, the Programs Coordinator of PEMA Kenya, “we managed to gather religious leaders in a working group to help develop a training manual on the needs of MSM.”
“What has been surprising is that these religious leaders keep requesting to bring others into the group,” says Adhiambo. Because LGBTI individuals have been living in fear of religious leaders’ mobilizations against them for so long, Facing Fear is helping PEMA Kenya members do exactly that.
In their own words
Esther Adhiambo is the Programs Coordinator of PEMA Kenya.
“I have watched PEMA Kenya grow from an MSM organization of 15 men to an LGBTI inclusive organization of 115 registered members. I have learned that when you involve the community your work becomes easier as they will inform you of their needs, rather than having to come up with ideas yourself. Previously, we the board would decide on the proposals we needed to write, but now we gather information in monthly forums with members to guide our proposals.
You have to be a leader that is reachable by members and to practice horizontal leadership where everyone is involved, and anyone can attend meetings and represent PEMA Kenya and explain what PEMA Kenya does.”