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.
On December 2, 2017, 100 children gathered at Alive Medical Services for Children’s Day.
“Even though they’re children, they still experience stress,” said Lorna, a counselor with AMS’ youth and children program. “Children’s Day gives them a chance to be free and have fun together. They can forget their troubles for a little while.”
Throughout the day, youth peer educators led children in a number of different activities. They sang, danced, and played games, sometimes with their caregivers, other times with their peers.
The youth educators talked to children about the importance of adhering to their medication, along with other child-friendly health topics.
“Our youth educators really take charge of these events,” Lorna said. “They serve as good role models for the children, and encourage them to stay healthy.”
As children interacted with youth educators and staff, their caregivers participated in their own type of programming: music therapy. Our music therapy program was recently relaunched by two new members of our staff, both of whom arrived two weeks ago from the United Kingdom. These two staff members, Ella and Isabel, engaged caregivers in music therapy sessions throughout the day.
While in these sessions, caregivers were given the chance to unwind, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company. They talked about motherhood, care, and HIV, connecting over the challenges (and of course, the benefits) of raising HIV-positive children.
“A great part of today is the fact that children get to share love with their parents,” said Martin, a clinician at AMS. “We encourage children to dance, sing and spend time together, which is so important.”
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.”
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!
Across the world, young girls struggle to balance their menstruation cycles and their daily lives. Without the proper resources, a week-long period can mean a week out of school – and because in rural areas, sanitary pads can be expensive and nearly impossible to find, 30 percent of Ugandan girls miss class during their periods.
“I was an orphan, and when I was young, it was so hard for me to get sanitary pads,” said Carol,* a client at Alive Medical Services (AMS). “I had to rip my regular clothes and use those as pads.”
Remembering such experiences, Carol joined AMS’ Kisakye Group as soon as it was launched in February of 2015. AMS established the Kisakye Group for two reasons: the first, to help HIV-positive individuals earn a sustainable income; the second, to support girls and women with menstruation management. AMS trained six clients to cut, sew and create reusable sanitary pads – or “super kits” – for donation.
Each super kit contains four cotton pads, two “shields,” two Ziploc bags and a cloth drawstring bag. These super kits help women use their sanitary pads discretely and with dignity.
Since then, the women have continued coming to the clinic nearly every day to sew. The Kisakye Group produces approximately 200 super kits per quarter, each of which can last up to three years. AMS pays women for each super kit they produce, all of which are donated to vulnerable populations and other AMS clients.
“These pads are so important,” Carol said. “You can wash them easily, which prevents disease and infection.”
The sale of these pads has helped women like Carol change their lives: because of her income from the Kisakye Group – and because of her treatment at AMS for the last nine years – Carol’s health has remained under control. Her two children are HIV-negative, happy and healthy. And, Carol reports that her financial stability has helped her look past the stigma and misconceptions regarding HIV.
In addition, Carol’s husband left her last year. Instead of falling apart, the small family picked themselves up, built a new home, and started their lives on a healthier foot, all because of Carol’s savings from the Kisakye Group.
“I love being here,” Carol said. “Kisakye helped me build a one-bedroom house. It helps me budget for my children. Because I know how to make these pads, my daughter won’t have to deal with her period in the same ways I did.”
* we have changed the name of this client to protect her privacy