The Puk Ayier phenomena, omena, HIV and the Fisher Folk. The story from Lake Victoria | Testimonials

The Puk Ayier phenomena, omena, HIV and the Fisher Folk. The story from Lake Victoria
The Puk Ayier phenomena, omena, HIV and the Fisher Folk. The story from Lake Victoria When I met *Teresita (not her real name) at the Kakione Beach in Sindo, Suba North in Homa Bay County, it was a very chilly noon. It had been raining most of the morning and beach was almost deserted save for a few children who were playing inside the fishing boats neatly parked alongside each other on the shores. “When it rains like this, there is very little activity here and that means our omena business is at an all-time low” she offered even before I could ask why the beach is empty. On such a day, the Puk Ayier illustration is difficult to comprehend. So she offers to explain.
“Here at the beach, the man that I live with is not necessarily my husband. Most relationships are contractual, based on sexual and other needs of the woman. The period I spend with a man may be as short as a day or as long as a few weeks. When I get tired of one man, I kick him out and simply pick one from among the many men around. It is like I scatter all the men in this beach along the shores then I pick the one I feel is best suited to fulfill my desires as a woman, be it sexual or financial.” She explains the meaning of Puk Ayier, in the simplest terms possible.
Now in her late 30s, *Teresita has been at Kakione beach for the last eight years. She left her husband and her children back at her matrimonial home several miles from Sindo to try out life along the shores of Lake Victoria.
In February 2017, Impact Research and Development Organization (IRDO) arrived at the beach with an HIV/AIDS intervention known as the Fisher Folk Program, targeting people who live and trade along the beaches and islands of Lake Victoria as a priority population. The program would enroll men and women most at risk of HIV acquisition and transmission.
“With a prevalence rate of between 22 to 23% according to UNAIDS, the program focuses on strategies to reach the fisher folk residing along the beaches and islands of Lake Victoria within Homa Bay County in Mbita and Suba, as well as Siaya County in Rarieda and Bondo, with risk reduction information and comprehensive HIV prevention services” says Florence Awuor, the Technical Advisor of the Fisher Folk Program at IRDO.
Florence says the program targets the men involved in the actual fish catching operations, any persons involved in fishing and fish trading and the processing. The people living around the beach, village or fish landing sites where fishing is the prominent occupation of ages 15 and above.
So the people of Kakione beach, just like those from the other beaches in Rarieda, Bondo, Mbita, Suba and Mfang’ano were delighted when such an intervention targeting them was rolled out by IRDO.
For *Teresita, a combination of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis  (PrEP) and the use of condoms is all she needs to make sure she is not infected by HIV from her many sexual partners or the husband that she visits back at home once in a while. “I am still alive today because of PrEP which I have used for the last 8 months. IRDO also provides me with Family Planning services.” She says.
*Teresita’s life story at Kakione beach is replicated at the nearby Sindo Main beach where the Beach Management Unit (BMU) Chairman Patty Okowa says that with a population of nearly 2,000 people depending directly or indirectly from the fishing culture, it would be hard to police anyone on morality. “The best thing that happened to us here was the coming of IRDO! Many of us would have been finished by now” He opines.
Molen Achieng who buys and sells omena also doubles up as an IRDO Peer Educator. Her work is to reach out to her peers at the beach with the risk reduction information. She says the intervention has saved many lives. “These days we no longer bury people every weekend because of HIV. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) have also gone down considerably here.” She says
At the Litare beach in the nearby Rusinga Island, Chairman Benedict Ochieng says though the every six month HIV testing is not adequate, it has helped to reduce the transmission and effects of HIV/AIDS. He also cites the availability of a condom dispenser, strategically placed at the beach, that IRDO ensures is always full of condoms that are used by both men and women as a good idea. “Over the last few years, with a population of over 5,000 people, we have only experienced one death of one of us who for reasons unknown to us, decided to default on his drugs. He was laid to rest in his native Gem home.” He says.
For Florence Awuor and the team at Fisher Folk Programs, the delight is in helping save a life that would have otherwise been lost to death as a result of HIV infection or for lack of drugs. “We are working with 89 big beaches and 68 smaller ones as well as 16 landing sites with an estimated population of over 110,000 in the two counties” she says.