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Mary Martin Niepold

The Nyanya Project
Purpose Prize Fellow 2009

Niepold is providing income-generating skills training for African grandmothers caring for grandchildren whose parents have died of AIDS.

Niepold was a journalist, professor, and grandmother of five when she first went to Africa as a volunteer in Kenyan orphanages. Having read stories about the plight of grandmothers raising grandchildren whose parents died from AIDS, Niepold kept asking Kenyans, “Who is helping the grandmothers?” The answer was always the same: nobody. When Niepold returned home, she could not stop thinking about the enormous load those forgotten women had to bear.In 2007, she returned to Kenya and started The Nyanya Project, or TNP, by organizing three cooperatives of grandmothers and teaching the women skills to become self-sufficient. TNP’s programs grew from the needs and existing skills of the grandmothers in each cooperative. One group helps run a TNP day care center; one is farming mushrooms in a large Nairobi slum; and one in rural Kenya is breeding sheep and goats. More than 120 grandmothers of orphans have been trained. Along with her full-time work teaching journalism at Wake Forest University, Niepold, 68, plans to continue leading TNP by assessing the needs of the grandmothers, developing partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, administering existing programs, and spreading the women’s stories.