Tag Archives: strength

Fathers, Daughters, and Denial Turned Activism

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.”

“I will not die before you do” Peace’s Story of Survival

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. 

Childhood

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.

Transitions

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.

Today

“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.”

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.”

One Virus, Two Lives: Mary’s Story of Strength

In 2013, Mary came to Alive Medical Services for a check-up. She had a fever and was hoping to see a doctor, receive some medicine, and head back home. Mary thought she only had a passing illness, but just to be safe, she decided to be tested for a number of viruses anyway.

When the doctor returned with Mary’s results, he told her something she would never have imagined: Mary, though married for years to the same person, was HIV positive.

“I was in such a bad state,” Mary said. “I just came into the clinic to get checked for a fever, and then I found out I had HIV.”

Terrified her husband would blame her for the illness, she didn’t say a thing until he developed a rash on his arms. Mary insisted he get tested for HIV, and when her husband came home with a positive diagnosis, he told her the truth. He had cheated on Mary with an HIV positive woman.

At that point, Mary found out she was pregnant with their third child, the first to be conceived after Mary realized her positive diagnosis. She hurried to AMS as soon as she found out she was expecting.

“The doctors helped me maintain good adherence throughout the pregnancy, following up with me as the months went by,” Mary said.

Within months, Mary’s husband left her for someone else. Regardless of his repeated deceit, Mary stayed strong. She kept up with her medication, came to the clinic for frequent check-ups, and focused on delivering a healthy, HIV negative baby.

After nine months of pre-natal care at AMS, and a year-and-a-half of check-ups post-birth, AMS doctors confirmed Mary’s daughter – Lillian – was HIV negative.

Today, Lillian is nearly 2 years old. Mary is in good health, and continues to come to AMS for her antiretroviral medication and regular check-ins. In addition, her family receives treatment of other infections – opportunistic or otherwise – free of charge.

“At first, I was so worried about having HIV,” Mary said. “But today, I’m okay. I’ve accepted it. And I’m well aware that if I take my medication well, I’ll continue to live.”

More Than Just Medicine: One Youth’s Story of Growth at AMS

Growing up, Anthony had always been sick. His mother took him to clinics, hospitals and health-care centers all over Kampala, but it wasn’t until age 10 that Anthony’s mother revealed the reason behind those visits. Anthony was HIV-positive, a concept he could barely understand and barely believe.

“I kept asking myself, how could this happen to me?” Anthony said. “Where did I get this virus?”

Dealing with an HIV-positive status at any age is difficult – but at age 10, it can be absolutely unbearable. After years of searching for the right clinic, Anthony and his mother, who was also HIV-positive, started receiving care at Alive Medical Services (AMS). Anthony began attended counselling sessions with AMS staff, and soon joined the Victor’s Club, a youth-led support group for children age 11-24.


Now age 22, Anthony remains an AMS client. The support he’s received from AMS has been critical, Anthony said, particularly after his mom passed away. The Victor’s Club has provided a platform for Anthony to de-stress, receive advice, and grow a support system of peers and other HIV-positive youth.

“AMS has really provided great support to me and my family,” Anthony said. “After my mom died, I was left to care for my two siblings. AMS provided us with food support when times were hard.”

This past year, Anthony also engaged in a music therapy project through a partnership with AMS and Musicians without Borders. Anthony, who had always loved drumming, received technical drum training. He also participated in sessions to build leadership skills and boost confidence. Twice a month on Saturday mornings, Anthony taught HIV-positive children how to drum, dance and sing, an activity that helped him build his self-confidence and patience. He grew to love attending the sessions and interacting with children, as it was not only fun, but rewarding. After the program ended, Anthony and his friends continued making music by forming a band and recording their songs.

“Through that program, I realized I really enjoy working with kids,” Anthony said. “I think it’s my calling.”