Hassan found out he was HIV positive in 2010. He and his wife had long split up – but when he found out she had passed away, Hassan had a feeling he knew why.
“My brother is a doctor in California,” Hassan said. “He tested me for HIV years before, but didn’t tell me the truth because he was scared of my reaction. Deep down, I knew what he couldn’t tell me.”
Eventually, Hassan visited Alive Medical Services to be tested and treated for HIV. At first, the medication made him dizzy, weak, and drowsy – but after speaking with the doctors, he was switched to the same antiretrovirals he has been on ever since.
“When I first found out I had HIV, I was heartbroken,” Hassan said. “I was in denial until I went through intensive counselling at AMS. They helped me work through what I was feeling.”
Because he hadn’t felt symptoms until a few months before his diagnosis, Hassan had no idea the virus had also touched his daughter. She was just 12 years old at the time she was tested, and at such a young age, Hassan was unsure how to tell her the truth.
The two developed an unspoken routine: Hassan and his daughter would take their medication together in the morning. It wasn’t until Hassan’s daughter saw another student at school taking the same medication that she started asking questions.
Understanding the value of proper disclosure, Hassan sought support from the AMS counseling department. He sat his daughter down to tell her the truth, finally revealing the secret he’d been keeping for two years.
“Will we die?” Hassan’s daughter asked.
“No,” Hassan answered. “If we keep taking our medication, we will live long, healthy lives.”
Today, Hassan’s daughter is an activist in her community. She takes after her father, who is outspoken about HIV, stigma, and the availability of free HIV resources both in person and online. By speaking out about HIV at school, Hassan’s daughter has mentored a number of HIV-positive children, helping them adhere to their medication and stay optimistic about their futures.
“She’s strong and vigilant,” Hassan said. “I couldn’t be prouder of who she has become.”
Alive Medical Services is launching a new participatory storytelling project to break down stigma and open up conversation around HIV: Positive. Powerful. Alive.
By engaging clients this project, we will provide program participants with a platform to tell their stories from a lens of strength. Through storytelling, video, and photography, clients will show their communities that they aren’t victims – they’re fighters. And they have stories to tell.
We have secured a partnership with a local video company, SkyRock Productions, that has agreed to train our clients on storytelling, video, and photography. However, we still need simple photo or video devices our clients can film their stories with.
That being said, we are looking for partners equally as interested in the power of arts, storytelling, and the end of HIV-related stigma to make this project a reality.
Our clients’ narratives will help reshape the way HIV is viewed in Namuwongo, Kampala, and beyond. Please consider donating to this project at https://goo.gl/8X1syD.
If you are interested in being involved in this project, reach out to Alive Medical Services’ communications department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace’s mother sold her and smiled.
“You don’t belong to anyone,” she said, looking down at the girl as she was forced to take off her clothes. Peace wrapped a red piece of cloth around her waist, not understanding where her mother was going, or why she had taken her here. Children peered out at her from behind the legs of adults, fear etched into every one of their faces.
“You’re going to die here,” her mother said.
Peace was just 7 years old. But in her head, she silently spoke her response.
Trust me, Mommy, she said. I will not die before you do.
This woman was not Peace’s mother. But when she first found Peace sleeping on the streets of Rakai, that’s exactly who she said she was. The woman cleaned Peace up, fed her dinner, and made her feel comfortable in her home, a large house far from the village 5-year-old Peace had initially fled.
“From this day forward, I am your mother,” the woman said. “You don’t have to worry anymore.”
Peace never knew her biological mother, but her last adopted family had forced her to sleep on the cold, hard ground outside their house. Peace’s new mother sent her to boarding school.
Though Peace was thrilled to go to school, she was anxious to see her mother again. She hadn’t been feeling well, and she was worried it was related to the fact that she wasn’t taking her medication anymore. Peace didn’t know what the medicine was for, but for as long as she could remember, the medicine had made her feel better. At her last home, Peace had been forced to clean the house, wash clothes, and scavenge for food — but she did swallow pills every day.
The holidays grew nearer, and returning home consumed the young girl’s thoughts.
“As time went on, I found out that my mother tried to pay the teachers to keep me at school,” Peace said. “But they kept telling her: you need to pick up your girl. Finally, she did.”
Back in Rakai, Peace’s reunion with her mother was short-lived. The woman left her with some food and water, and told Peace she’d be back in a week. When the woman’s husband found Peace at the house unaccompanied, he threw her out of the house, threatening to kill her when Peace tried to explain that the woman — his wife — was her mother.
Peace had no choice but to go back to the streets. For weeks, she shuffled from empty building to empty building to find somewhere to live, doing everything she could to get enough food to survive. Despite the last encounter she had with the woman’s husband, she felt like she had no choice. She went back to the large house to ask for help.
Once she got there, Peace collapsed into the woman’s arms. Her husband wasn’t home, but he would be returning, she said. The woman dried Peace’s tears and held her close.
“Don’t cry,” the woman said. “I’m taking you to live with my sister.”
The woman brought Peace into a forest, claiming her sister had a large house of her own just a short distance away. The woman forced Peace to walk for hours, pressing her to continue until they finally reached a clearing in the woods.
The area was filled with dilapidated thatched huts. Peace had no idea where she was, or more alarming, why a wealthy woman’s sister would live in the depths of the forest. Her questions wouldn’t be answered until days later, when another young girl dressed in crimson explained where they were — and what they were doing there.
Before long, the woman was walking toward home with a money-filled envelope.
Peace was walking toward death in a child sacrifice camp.
Today, Peace is 18 years old. Peace is a survivor — not only of poverty, violence, homelessness, and attempted murder, but also, of HIV.
After three months of trauma, Peace escaped the child sacrifice camp and boarded a taxi to Kampala. Weak and undernourished, she was soon back on the streets. She was rounded up with a group of other street children and sent to live in a police cell. When no one came to pick her up, Peace spent three years in a children’s prison.
Every day that passed, Peace’s health deteriorated more. Peace hadn’t committed a crime, but she also didn’t have a home. Without anyone to care for her, she remained in prison until she was adopted once more at the age of 11.
By that time, Peace had been without her medication (which, she later found out, was HIV treatment) for more than six years.
“The doctors thought I had brain damage because I was so sick,” Peace said. “I was finally adopted into a real, kind family, and my mother brought me to see Dr. Pasquine.”
AMS doctors tested Peace for HIV. When she tested positive, they started her on antiretroviral treatment. Thought her parents told Peace that the medicine would keep her healthy and strong, she didn’t realize she was HIV positive until her parents disclosed to her at the age of 13.
“I was terrified,” Peace said. “I had already gone through so many things. You wouldn’t even know I could speak because I was so quiet, I refused to talk.”
Peace became unconsolable. Unwilling to accept her diagnose, she stopped taking her medication. Peace’s parents brought her back to AMS for counseling, and while she was there, the staff introduced Peace to the Victor’s Club, AMS’ program and peer support group for youth living with HIV.
After interacting with doctors, counselors, and her HIV-positive peers, Peace realized her life was far from over. She kept returning to AMS for Victor’s Club meetings and treatment, and slowly, she began to open up. She started talking not only about her past memories, but her future fears.
Finally, Peace said, she had found a place where she could just be herself.
“I never had friends before Victor’s Club,” Peace said. “Once I started coming, things really changed. Now, I’m so social — everyone here knows me.”
Today, Peace counsels younger children involved in Victor’s Club and organizes meetings for her peers. She feels stigma free, she said, and openly shows her medication to anyone who asks about it.
Though Peace’s family has moved to Entebbe, she continues to come to AMS for Victor’s Club meetings, treatment and medication, and other AMS initiatives, such as last year’s music therapy program. Over the summer, Peace was trained at AMS to become a youth peer educator. At this training, she acquired the skills to help HIV positive children and adolescents in her community, and has since helped a number of HIV positive youth in Entebbe find clinics close to their home.
“I love being involved because I am one of them,” Peace said, speaking about the other HIV positive youth in the Victor’s Club. “I used to be like them, refusing to take the drugs. Now, I am healthy. I can help them.”
Peace is now studying counseling at her university. After graduation, she wants to become a minister, spreading messages of love, health , and hope not just in Uganda, but around the world.
“Having HIV is not my fault,” Peace said. “There’s nothing to be done about it. You have to accept the life you were given, and move on.”
Starting at 8:01 a.m. Uganda time (and 12:01 am Eastern Standard Time) every donation you make toward Alive Medical Services will help us gain additional funding from Global Giving – and every recurring gift you make will be matched 100%!
Starting today, each donation we receive from partners like you will go toward our work with women and children, helping those disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic live healthy, dignified lives. With your support, we’ll reach sisters, mothers, wives, daughters, and friends, many of whom have nowhere else to turn.
Across the country, the rate of HIV among Ugandan women is higher than the rate of HIV among Ugandan men. Young women and adolescent girls are particularly affected by the epidemic, often times due to gender-based violence, sexual coercion and a lack of sexual and reproductive health information.
To truly end the spread of HIV, we must reach those most vulnerable to it. By supporting women who have already contracted the virus, we can not only save their lives, but stop HIV from spreading to their children.
Your #GivingTuesday contributions will help AMS:
Visit Alive Medical Services’ Global Giving page to make an impact today! Click here to donate.
One week from today, people around the world will celebrate #GivingTuesday. First launched in 2012, #GivingTuesday was created to kick off the charitable giving season, boosting the impact of organizations and connecting individuals with causes they care about.
To wrap up 2017 in the most impactful way possible, Alive Medical Services has teamed up with Global Giving to raise funds for our most vulnerable clients: HIV positive women, adolescent girls, and children. We’ve created this new project page to strengthen our programming for women and children, boosting our support for those most disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic in Uganda.
In addition, Global Giving will match every recurring donation made from November 28 to December 31 by 100%, amplifying your impact for HIV positive women, girls and children at AMS.
Every time we work together, we get closer to an AIDS-free Uganda. We are so excited for #GivingTuesday, and we hope you are too!