Interview with Partnerships & Program Director, Rev. John Makokha

What is your role at this organization?

How inclusive do you think the community RUWEPO serves is in comparison to the rest of Kenya?

RUWEPO is unique because it reaches out to people who are marginalized in the community — especially women who are living with HIV/AIDS. We reach out with compassion, educational awareness, and making referrals for treatment. We have also another program to reach out to sexual minorities– people who are looked at as not normal. We reach out to the LGBTI people to provide counseling to them, their parents and friends. We also have trainings to fight ignorance so people understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity. We also have capacity building to reach out to spiritual leaders to teach them about sexual identity and such so to reduce stigma and increase acceptance. We have also reached out to sex workers. Sometimes it is good to understand people. It is not a question of just condemning them, being judgmental, because that is not our work. Our work is to help them in terms of HIV prevention programs so they can learn to protect themselves. Those that are infected we do reach out to them and teach them about ARV’s and how to avoid spreading the disease.

Why do you believe RUWEPO should help people regardless of race,gender, HIV status, sexuality?

From a religious point of view, all people are created in the image of God. All of us are the same. As an organization, we believe in the principle of inclusivity, non-discrimination, and treating all the people the same. We do not want to judge on anything – tall/short, left/right handed, by race or by sexual orientation.

What is your take on the church’s role in all these political issues?

As a clergy, I think the church should create safe spaces for people who are living in fear or who are being stigmatized. The church should be a beacon of hope that people can run to when they are in trouble. The church should have open doors, open minds, and open hearts so that people can go their to seek peace, solace, and guidance. Even as we preach in churches, we should preach a message of love because God is love.

How do you work with religious figures to increase education to prevent stigma?

We have educational materials, trainings, and handouts. We educate them from the known to unknown. We look at what the Bible does and does not say about LGBTI. So it is a question of having dialogue sessions. We discuss and we have been making some breakthroughs where people are changing the way they treat LGBTI people.

Do you any success stories? Or specific stories of people you have helped?

We had a time where we had a program with post-graduate theological students and that was successful. We reached out to some clergy that were really tough and they gave us an audience. To even get 3-4 hours with them where they listen or we have a dialogue is successful. We also had some LGBTI persons who were in danger and we hosted them. We gave them food and shelter and been encouraging them through counseling.

How do you think RUWEPO contributes to a brighter future?

RUWEPO gives education to orphaned and vulnerable children. Giving them education, counseling, and food is a way to build their future. They could be the president, they could be leaders in different sectors of the economy, but they will be change agents in our society. In terms of the HIV+, it has given them hope and a will for the future. In terms of poverty education and empowerment of poor/vulnerable women, the education lets them put food on the table and support their children. This will build humanity.

How would additional funding assist you in your goals?

It will help RUWEPO to develop infrastructure in terms of buying land and establishing a upper level school, getting a playground for the kids, building a hospital/clinic, having water. Holistically, this will develop our community.