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Food, Education and Hope: The Nutrition Program at AMS

Twice a month, food is laid outside the doors of AMS. As the clinic swells with patients, doctors walk from left to right, spreading nutrition information. One by one, AMS’ community health workers call out clients’ names, all of whom have been previously measured for severe food insecurity. After nurses assess their health status, each client receives seven kilograms of rice, seven kilograms of beans, two kilograms of sugar, and a bag of fresh vegetables.

One of those clients is Esther, a 35-year-old HIV-positive mother and a patient at AMS. Esther’s partner left her a year ago, making it nearly impossible to juggle her job – selling roasted meat alongside the roads of Kampala – with the care of her one-month-old baby, Sharidah, and two other children.

Without her partner’s support, Esther’s income dwindled; she could no longer afford to eat properly. Her breastmilk began to run out, causing Sharidah to lose weight drastically and rapidly.

“At one point, my children would wake up every morning with no food on the table,” Esther said. “Sharidah was so weak, and so was I. I didn’t know what to do.”

On her next visit, AMS staff took note of Sharidah’s weight loss. AMS enrolled the family in AMS’ food program, and started the baby on food aid. At the same time, AMS educated Esther on proper infant feeding practices.

In the four months since then, Sharidah’s health has greatly improved: she’s gained nearly four kilograms, and smiles and laughs easily. She’s even built up enough strength to stand and walk on her own.

Once Sharidah’s weight stabilizes, AMS will phase the family out of the food program. Regardless, we will continue to support them through other initiatives. AMS engages more than 300 HIV positive clients in our gardening program, for example, which is made up of 18 different clubs. By teaching clients how to plant, grow, harvest and sell their own crops, we help clients raise their incomes (and eat healthy food) in a sustainable way.

“Because of AMS, I have high hopes for the future,” Esther said. “HIV – and my other challenges – cannot bring me down.”

The Law’s on Your Side: A Story of Strength and Perseverance

When Robert’s* company started withholding salaries from their employees, he tried his best to keep faith.

“We’re going through a difficult time, his boss said, “We’ll get you your money soon.”

Robert waited. Month after month, his boss paid him the bare minimum – 30,000 shillings here ($8 USD), 20,000 shillings there ($6 USD), always promising Robert’s full salary was on the way. Robert continued to work, hoping he could believe his employer’s repeated promises.

Ten months later, nothing – and everything – had changed. Unable to secure his agreed-upon salary, Robert could no longer afford to pay rent. Robert’s landlord threw his family out on the street, and their only option was to move in with a friend. For months, Robert, his wife and their three children crowded into the corner of a shared one bedroom flat. His wife, an HIV-positive client at AMS, began drinking excessively as the stress mounted. And though Robert contacted a lawyer to help him secure his salary, the corruption continued – his lawyer dodged his calls and refused to help. He had been bribed by Robert’s company himself.

“I didn’t take one day of leave for four years,” Robert said. “We had nothing to eat. Nothing to survive. My employer refused to pay, and I looked for any job I could find.”

With his wife’s health declining, Robert began taking full control of her and their daughter’s HIV treatment. He picked up their medication at Alive Medical Services (AMS) whenever they needed it, and on one of those trips, Robert reached out to Alice, a staff member in AMS’ counselling department.

“She told me: don’t surrender,” Robert said. “Have hope. It’s your money and you deserve to get it in full. We will fight for it.”

Alice connected Robert to Justice Centres Uganda, a legal aid centre that helps Uganda’s most vulnerable citizens access legal services. For years, AMS has sustained a partnership with Justice Centres Uganda, which allows our counsellors to link clients to a lawyer free of charge.

Robert needed to get what was rightfully his to save both himself and his family, and Justice Centres Uganda did just that. After Robert’s new lawyer got involved, his employer finally surrendered a significant amount of the money owed to him. With that money, Robert bought a half acre of land, upon which he plans to build a house and start a pig farm.

“We are doing better now than ever before,” Robert said. “Alice encouraged me to keep fighting for my rights. I’m so grateful that I did.”

* indicates an individual’s name has been changed for their privacy