September 04, 2009

PLHAHow they survive

How the people live here

KIWAKKUKI September 4, 2009

I promised to continue the stories of the brave people who are part of the KIWAKKUKI family. In morning meeting today, we heard two students from the capitol city of Dodoma express their appreciation for all that they had learned from KIWAKKUKI. One of the things they told us was that when they came to their field placement, they thought that people living with HIV only had to deal with the disease. They didn’t realize that they also suffer from the other problems that people living in a poor country also have, but in addition, they deal with their illness and the STIGMA connected to it. As they said, “Shidas mbali mbali”! Translated, all different sorts of problems. As if to underscore what they said, a lovely lady who is HIV-infected reported that a thief came last night and stole everything she had. She had a shy smile on her face as she said, Thank God, that she wasn’t hurt. But, the man had taken advantage of her because of her HIV. The two students said that they learned that people with HIV had to find ways to speak up for themselves, and they now realized that this was very hard. They appreciated the work that KIWAKKUKI does in trying to help HIV+ persons to accept their illness and go about the other difficult things in life.

Cecelia and Ndosi (Ndosi is a KIWAKKUKI driver)

Blandi and John

My second story is about Blandina. Blandi is a young woman who became infected with HIV many years ago. At first, her husband wanted to leave her and treated her very badly. She found out about her HIV when she had her first child. This child died. She was incorporated into the memory project and worked with her husband on her story. They built a family tree together so that other family members would know and appreciate her story. This memory work has been healing for the couple and he is treating her better now. They had another child who is not infected. But, her struggles do not end there. Blandina spoke no English when I first met her 5 ½ years ago, but she has worked very hard to improve. As she learned English, she also learned the importance of standing up for herself, and not being ashamed. She volunteered with the memory project, working with children’s clubs, listening to their stories, helping them to express their sadness over being orphans and living with HIV. In one of these clubs, she heard the story of a young boy who talked to his sister about learning that both his parents had HIV, and how they died, and then learning that both he and his sister were also HIV-infected. These two acted out their story as if they were on a telephone. The children were crying before their story was over. She helped to comfort them and to give them hope for the future. Since that time, with her help, these children have acted out their story for schools, meetings, and businesses. Because of her skill with young people, she was hired for one of the mobile Voluntary Counseling and Testing (MVCT) counselors, and was found to be very good at this job. She had unusual compassion for people entering the system through counseling and testing. As her comfort level with people continued to grow, she was then hired to be part of the CHAT, Children with HIV/AIDS project in Tanzania. She carries herself with pride and honor.

Blandi has friends everywhere because she does not shrink from others. She joined an internet group of women with HIV, and in particular found a friend who visited from the US and they found a common bond.

The KIWAKKUKI folks are amazing. Some of them will appear in pictures. The woman who was robbed last night, John who has lived with HIV for 20 years and continues to thrive and others. John’s first born son died from AIDS two years ago at the age of around 24 and John himself suffered an accident in which his arm had to be amputated. Yet, each day he rides his bicycle about 10 kilometers from his home to KIWAKKUKI to work with the VCT program. A huge smile covers his face as he works. He married an HIV-negative woman who has accepted him with all her heart, and though there were problems from neighbors who thought that they should not marry, they rose above these critics and persuaded them that they had the right to live a full life regardless of John’s HIV status. Now he is one of the leaders of the community.

Their stories are unique only because they have conquered many of the fears and discrimination that haunt others. As peer educators, they serve to be the voice of the voiceless and it is precisely because of KIWAKKUKI that they have been able to do this.

Here are some of the heroes, Verynice, Theresia, Rayline, Ellie.....Every day they come to work with smiles amidst the angst.

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