NAIROBI, Kenya — Clad in traditional Maasai regalia, Nalangu Taki looks at the attentive audience, tears welling up in her eyes, as she struggles to explain the difficulties of finding the resources to feed 18 HIV/AIDS orphans in her town in southwestern Kenya.

She knows that PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief put forth by the Bush administration, and other international donor programs have the money she needs, but she is at a loss as to how to get any of it. Funding “is for the learned people, who are able to write good proposals,” she despairs.

Taki’s speech is repeatedly interrupted by the shouts of other Kenyan HIV/AIDS caregivers in the audience at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies here in Nairobi, because they share in her dilemma. Uneducated and without contacts, the women find themselves unable to master the paperwork that international donors require. As a result, they complain, too often they are shut out from funding and the people they care for are deprived of needed aid.

Though PEPFAR spent $142.9 million in Kenya in 2005, Taki and many other impoverished caregivers seem to know little or nothing about the vast U.S. program, let alone how to obtain funding from it.

Nalangu Taki, a Masai woman from Narok in southwestern Kenya, cares for of 18 AIDS orphans in her home and is searching for funding to help them
Nalangu Taki, a Masai woman from Narok in southwestern Kenya, cares for of 18 AIDS orphans in her home and is searching for funding to help them Image: Arthur Okwemba

Most of the donors require proposals to be written in English, a language Taki says many of the illiterate people cannot express themselves in well, as is also the case with Kiswahili, Kenya’s other national language spoken by many people in East Africa.

Even if she knew where PEPFAR offices are, Taki, the head of Encholla Farmers Women Group, fears that their poor proposal writing skills would still deny them access to such funds.

“Those people” — i.e., the U.S. government — “might be just like those who give you complicated forms to fill,” Taki says in resignation.

Her story underscores the source of her agony.

Three years ago, Taki, out of sympathy, decided to take care of five AIDS orphans who had nowhere to go. Using resources from well-wishers, she managed to feed and educate the children. But things started getting rough when more children took refuge in her home.

Since then, the number of children in her care has more than tripled, as more parents weakened by HIV/AIDS sent their offspring to her for support. “You have to share the little you have with them,” she says.

Besides caring for HIV/AIDS orphans, she and other women at the Encholla women’s group try to teach abstinence, faithfulness and condom use in their community.

“We are hoping someday that someone will come to help us,” she says.

In an attempt to get funding, Taki and her colleagues have sometimes been compelled to hire better-educated people to write their proposals. But the fees charged by professional grant writers, which can range as high as 15,000 Kenyan shillings — around $200 in U.S. money — make such help an expensive luxury, in a country where more than half the population subsists on less than $2 a day.

Groups that have obtained PEPFAR funding, in contrast, say they are able to deftly tailor their proposals to increase their chances of getting money.

The chief executive of one Kenyan nongovernmental organization (NGO), who asked not to be named, says his organization did not fully disclose to PEPFAR what precisely it intended to do with U.S. money. “Our programs include passing condom messages to schoolchildren,” he says. “We knew we could not get funding if we said this. So we just indicated that we deal with ‘vulnerable groups.'”

An official at another Kenyan NGO said that having a prior good relationship with a U.S. NGO that is a prime partner of PEPFAR is a big advantage. “Working with these NGOs has been a blessing since it is easier for them to understand our work than if we had to apply directly to those in charge of PEPFAR,” the official says.

Dr. Sobbie Mulindi, a psychologist and senior lecturer at University of Nairobi and who sits on several HIV/AIDS committees, described the current funding by PEPFAR and other donors as benefiting “professional proposal writers” and those who have good networks with donors. “It is a pity genuine people who are bringing a difference in people’s lives do not get the funds because they do not know how to write sound proposals,” he says.

Sam Wambugu, a senior technical officer for Family Health International (FHI), a U.S.-based NGO and PEPFAR partner, says that FHI has set aside some money in a “rapid response” fund to help organizations that have difficulty writing their own proposals.

“If we see an organization is doing good work, but cannot develop a proposal, we sit with them, take notes, and then provide technical assistance on how to write one,” he says.

The only concern of many people is that very few organizations know such assistance exists. For Taki, the future is still bleak:

“Unless we get someone to help us understand how to write good proposals and where to get funds, then those who benefit from our activities will continue to suffer,” she says.