When Nadia was 10 years old, she was hospitalized for an entire month. She had no idea she was HIV positive until months later – and she didn’t realize the weight HIV carried until she returned to primary school.
“My teachers would always say you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” Nadia said. “They acted like I was so fragile. Like I could faint at any moment.”
For months, Nadia felt isolated. The kids at school didn’t understand why the teachers treated her the way that they did, and Nadia couldn’t understand it either. When she took her medication, she felt fine – but for some reason, her teachers thought she was anything but.
Tired of all the special treatment, Nadia stopped taking her medication, hoping that everyone would treat her like a normal person again.
Once Nadia’s mother realized what her daughter was doing, she brought Nadia to Alive Medical Services (AMS) for counselling. Day after day, Nadia sat with the counsellors, and they spoke to her about good adherence and living positively. Soon after, Nadia began engaging with the Victor’s Club, AMS’ youth program for adolescents living with HIV.
“When I got to secondary level, I started to let it go,” Nadia said. “I thought to myself: I have HIV. That can’t be changed. And I can live with that.”
In time, Nadia began singing, dancing, and making friends at Victor’s Club. This past summer, AMS staff trained Nadia to become a youth peer educator, giving her the skills to counsel other youth living with HIV, and refer them to the clinic for treatment.
Now 18, Nadia hopes to attend university next year. Eventually, she hopes to become a counsellor for HIV-positive children herself.
“I want HIV-positive children to know that living a positive life is not that hard,” Nadia said. “You can live beyond other people’s expectations. You can achieve what others can achieve, and more. It’s important not to be afraid.”
Ever since school let out, Nadia has spent her days volunteering at AMS. She helps measure the weight, height, and health status of children at triage, working alongside the nurses and helping whenever she can.
“I want to work with children because they are the future of tomorrow,” Nadia said. “They should know that HIV can’t stop them.”
On Saturday, December 16, over 160 adolescents gathered at Alive Medical Services for the last Youth Day of 2017. Led almost entirely by AMS’ youth peer educators, Youth Day consisted of games, performances, singing, and dancing.
AMS staff also led educational sessions on the new differentiated service delivery model being rolled out at the clinic, which is working to decrease wait time for clients and increase efficiency for doctors.
The MCs of the event – three young people AMS trained as peer educators this past quarter – encouraged youth of all ages to show off what they do best. Performances included singing, dancing, miming, and even eating, the latter of which was showcased through an eating competition among six youth.
Later into the day, everyone participated in an activity led by AMS’ two music therapists. The music therapists introduced the group to samba, a Brazilian genre of music that relies on syncopated rhythms and heavy percussion.
Over 100 people beat drums, shook maracas, and played other musical instruments, coming together to create music from the other side of the Atlantic.
Youth were also given a chance to sign up for two new initiatives that will be launched at AMS next year: Positive. Powerful. Alive., a participatory storytelling project aimed to decrease stigma and open up conversation around HIV; and Peer Network Group, a platform for HIV positive clients to engage and interact with one another through synchronized appointments and activities.
“It was a day of reuniting, rejuvenation, and entertainment,” one youth said. “And of course, for making friends.”
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 email@example.com.