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.”
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.”
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.”