The cost of HIV treatment in Nigeria at this time was very expensive, especially as she was being treated at a private hospital. And yet, even with this expensive care Taiwo was not getting better. She lost a lot of weight, had blurred vision and could barely walk without aid, let alone work. She had little choice but to close down the shop. “I feel bad when I close my shop,” says Taiwo.
No more money, no more anything. I cannot buy anything to sell. I don’t know how we will manage. I used to worry.
It was during a health talk in her secondary school that her third daughter, Esther, collected an information leaflet on HIV and AIDS which had on it information on how to get appropriate help at almost no cost. She took the flier home, showed it to her elder sisters and together they took their mother to the Ogun State Action Committee on AIDS (SACA), which was the address on the leaflet. There Taiwo was referred to the federal medical center where she was able to regain her health at almost no cost.
However, Taiwo still faced financial issues. Since she could no longer pay the rent for the four-bedroom flat; she had to move her family to a one-room apartment that shares facilities with several other families. The paying of school fees for the girls was also challenging. Taiwo had to resort to begging from relatives to meet their needs. “I feel bad to be asking them for money,” she says.
Before, they use to come me and ask for money. I am the one feeding the whole family then. But now, I am the one begging for money from them. I did not like it.
It was at this point, in 2010, that Taiwo received a call from the Association of Women Living with HIV in Nigeria (ASHWAN), which she had joined after begin her treatment. The call was to invite her to participate in a selection-by-ballot exercise for women living with HIV. The 15 women who picked ‘yes’ would benefit from a skills acquisition workshop that ActionAid was supporting through the Enhancing Nigeria’s Response to HIV/AIDS (ENR) programme. This was Taiwo’s dream: a second chance in business; a second chance to attain financial security for herself and her daughters.
But when Taiwo pulled her ballot from the box, the small square of paper said ‘no.’
She was saddened but not discouraged. As she says, “When ENR called and did ‘yes and no’, I don’t pick ‘yes’, but I say to myself: ‘if it is God will, I will be on my bed, they will call me’”.
Two days later, Taiwo received a call from a member of the group informing her that her name was among those selected to benefit from the programme. Some of those who were initially selected had changed their minds.
“When I get the call, I thank God,” recalls Taiwo. “I was very happy because I have always want to learn how to do adire [make dyed cloth], so I was very happy.”
Partnering with the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), ActionAid provided the women with a selection of different skills they could learn.Taiwo choose to be trained on how to make adire (also called kampala), a form of dyed fabric in high demand in the South West region of Nigeria. The women were also provided business and financial management training and were given some materials and money to start up a small business.
With the start-up funds she got from ENR, Taiwo opened a adire manufacturing business. She named it NEMY, an acronym of her daughters’ names: Naomi, Esther, Mary and Yemi.
Taiwo, now 53, has put to practice all she learnt and has even taken the initiative to get further training to enable her to make special designs. The business has flourished; she manages a great number of customers, regularly receives requests to make materials in large quantities for special occasions such as weddings and church events, and currently supplies materials to traders in Kaduna and Ekiti States. When business is good, Taiwo can boast of a monthly profit of between 25,000 and 30,000 naira. This is much more than the trickles that came in from relatives when she no longer had a source of income.
As soon as she began making a profit, Taiwo’s priority was to ensure the education of her daughters. The first one hundred thousand naira (N100,000) she was able to save was used to pay Esther’s college tuition and the school fees for her last daughter who is currently in secondary school (the two eldest had by this time completed their schooling).
Her goal now is to move out of the one-room apartment. She recently purchased a plot of land with profits from her business and plans to start building a house in 2015.
Taiwo’s success has led people to come to her to learn and she obliges at a fee. She does not, however, request money from women whom she knows are also living with HIV. This is her way of giving back; of showing her appreciation for ActionAid and the ENR programme because, as she says, “what they did in my life is wonderful.”