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GLBTI ISSUES:HUMAN RIGHTS, HIV & AIDS AND CHRISTIAN FAITH CONFERENCE

Below is Risper Olweny's paper on the above topic, I thought it would excite us.

Immediately after my class 8 exam at the age of 13 years, I was wooed by my aunt to get married to her neighbor whom I came to realize later that he had lost 3 wives through a mysterious disease. This man started diarhoearing and vomiting and would complain of headache and cold every now and then. He was introduced to traditional doctors who would come and sacrifice chicken, give him herbs to take, but he eventually died in 2006. My child also followed after 3 months. When I was expectant, I didn’t go to any hospital. The traditional nurses attended to me and assured me I was safe.

After loosing my husband and child in succession in 2006 my in laws were hostile to me and took away everything and even chased me from the home saying I could not inherit anything in their home. . They accused me of having killed their brother in order to take all his property. They said their brother died of witchcraft and when my child died they accused me of infidelity. I was still young and naïve so I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS. In my village they believed and do still believe that HIV/AIDS is contracted due to witchcraft. I had to leave the village for Nairobi to fend for myself. When I left the village I also had little idea of HIV/AIDS, to me I had been bewitched not to have a family. So I left the village a bitter widow.

It was the year 2007 when I was seriously sick. I went to Kenyatta National Hospital and tested for malaria. I was given anti malaria drugs. After a few days, the same sickness re occurred. This time round it was severe stomach ache and diarrhea. I also started vomiting. Again I was hospitalized at Kenyatta national hospital. This time round the doctor talked with me and advised to know my HIV status. I was hesitant to know my status. It took time for the doctor to explain why it was necessary for the test to be carried out. After several pleas by the doctor I finally agreed though with a lot of fear. The test came out positive as I had feared. This is the time reality dawned on me that I was dying. I knew this was the end of me because the people I knew were positive never survived for long especially after knowing their status. This shocked and I nearly fainted. The doctor counseled me that being HIV + doesn’t mean the end of life. He talked about the ARVs and assured me that as long as I accepted my status and was faithful in using the ARVs and having a balanced diet, I would live to the fullest. He also told me not to worry about my status now but continue with my normal life. But I requested the doctor not to reveal my status to anybody. At that time I was working as a house help here in Nairobi. I was introduced to the ARVs and would secretly go for the ARVs and take without my employer’s knowledge.

After a period of two weeks, I was down with meningitis due to stress. I was again hospitalized at Kenyatta National hospital. I had not accepted my condition. It was quite challenging because the doctor had advised me not to mix ARVs with any other medicine. This time round the doctor pleaded with me to declare my HIV status to my family members. I disclosed to my sister who had brought me to Nairobi. She was forced to tell my employer the truth. My employer wouldn’t have me in her house. She told my sister that I was going to be a burden to everyone in Nairobi because they would end up contributing money for my funeral expenses. She also would not let me set my foot in her house again. She brought my suitcase to the hospital. My sister insisted that I go home but a brother in law who is HIV+ encouraged me to stay and join support groups.

I regained strength again and looked for a job as a house help. I got at Rev. Makokha’s house. I would for ARVs without their knowledge because I feared that if I told them about my HIV status they could also throw me out. It happened that one day a guest pastor came to church and as he called people to be prayed for, he started with me. He prayed generally for my sickness and said I would be a living testimony in our church. After the service, he called me and Rev.Makokha and wife and talked about my HIV status and told me that I was going to live life to the fullest and I was not going to die soon. He also told the Makokha’s that it was better if I fully engaged in the HIV/AIDS program. By then, our church had it but had not identified it as a major unit. The women’s ministry, the now Riruta United Methodist Women CBO had this program but no one to head it. I was identified as the best candidate for the post because the whole church had now known my status. I embraced my new post and worked with the director on what I was supposed to do. She encouraged me to attend HIV/AIDS, workshops, form a church support group and attend as many seminars as possible related to this issue. She also encouraged me to visit other organizations like PANATEC and see how they were working. We also organized seminars and called in facilitators to come and educate the organization and the people in the locality about HIV/AIDS.
Advantages
1. I would say this has helped a lot because many women have come out and shared their HIV status. We no longer do it as a secret. Initially I thought I was the only one HIV positive in the organization but I came to realize we were quite a number, I had helped many to come out.
2. I have learnt a lot about HIV/AIDS, symptoms and prevention measures. Many people die out there due to ignorance. You can be HIV positive but still lead a normal life. Being positive does not mean you should be denied your basic rights like sex but you should know what to use. Some people think that when you are HIV positive you should avoid sex, We also have feelings like any other person. It is only fair that we don’t have sex carelessly without a condom.

3. I now know which types of food to eat; nutritious this boosts the body immunity system.

4. The support group groups are encouraging and a source for ideas. This is where we meet; share our challenges, struggles and achievements. We encourage each other and even learn new ideas in the craft industry.

5. The literacy programs have helped me a lot I now work as an educator passing on information to the affected and infected members of the society.

6. Being the HIV/AIDS coordinator in our group, I have advantage in that I tend to move around and hear many challenging situations and how people are overcoming them. I also network with other organizations like Riruta United Women Empowerment Program and Other Sheep Kenya to see the best ways we can help curb further infections and those who are already infected counseled on the best ways of living without having to worry about the person next door is saying or thinking about our status.

Disadvantages
1. Sometimes people tend to fear you the moment they learn of your status. This leads to stigma because it reaches a time when you cry and ask God why are members of the society so discriminative?

2. Sometimes you don’t have food and taking the ARVs on empty stomach is quite a challenge. This makes the CD4 count to go down which is dangerous.

3. Neighbors can be discriminatory and the moment they learn you are HIV positive they tell the landlord they don’t want you in their midst so you are told by the landlord to move out of his plot.

4. Many a times money meant for HIV positive people from the government doesn’t reach us the small organizations and poor people, this makes it difficult to run programs. You know the HIV+ people need food so it is difficult for us to organize seminars for the them without funds.

5. HIV/AIDS is one of the programs of our CBO that has suffered financial challenges. Money that was meant for the program last year given by United .Methodist Committee on Relief was wired back to the United States because of our support for the LGBTI community. It was painful to us as the suffering members of the society because as the saying goes; it is the shoe wearer who knows where it pinches most. The AIDS community felt the impact of this inhuman, insensitive and unGodly action and we have never recovered.

Finally, the HIV+ persons don’t need sympathy but to be loved, accepted, tolerated like any other members of the society.

Comments

Risper's story is an eye opener and right now she is happily married with two sons, Francis, three years old and Meshack two months old.

Anne Khadudu Baraza,
CEO- Riruta United Women Empowerment Programme
+254 729880651/ 020 2602803
!27-00502 Karen, Nairobi Kenya

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