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The STRONG roots of HIV and AIDS ---my Family's experience

Once healthy and strong now GONE

Resting her right hand on her chin, a 66-year-old mother of now three daughters says her plight is excess. “The cross is too heavy for me, seeing my children vanish like grass throbs my heart," says my mother, Nociata Alweny.

Having buried her only surviving son my mother says she would rather have died earlier than see her children who would have buried her die before her. “Sons buy salt for their parents, whose son will I go begging salt?” was her confession while mourning before the burial of her son mid this January.
Seeing my brothers' many graves lined up reminds me of the great gap in the family and the challenge therein. Having grown up in a large peaceful home of 12 and now reduced to 3 in less than a decade is an alarming loss socially, economically and politically.

When it comes to HIV/AIDS I can talk about it with all the boldness because it has finished my family: Seven of my brothers, including steps, are now nothing but graves, all my brothers vanished due to the epidemic; two of my sisters are gone the same way. My mother of eight now has three daughters and 17 orphaned grandchildren. Josephine my older sister, Josephine who is suffering in a very abusive relationship, she is the sole provider of their home as the husband spends time drinking and sleeping out for days with other women. I skipped off the frying pan of an abusive relationship after observing and witnessing what my family is going through and what my sister is going through. My younger sister, Sylvia, is just in high school hoping to study comprehensive nursing. I support my entire family. I can never forgive HIV, it can turn a yielding family into a graveyard and paint stress and agony in the faces of the survivors.

Land ownership in this situation has become another battleground. Having lost all the brothers who are believed to be the rightful landowners, my mother and her daughters have no voice on our own land, which is now being taken as community property. Being a densely populated community where land is and farmland are scarce, and the fact that the men in are family have been wiped out, the village elders are now saying we (our family) do not belong to that community.

It was in the 1830s when Obwaga, our great-grandfather, came to Amor–Kisoko (our village) as a herdsman to one family. Unlike the sons of the boss, he was meant to live in the bush (just like slaves are treated by their masters). Stories say wild animals like lions, leopards, snakes and the like lived therein but Obwaga bravely lived in the bush where he managed to make his family (a wife and children, grand children and great grand children) to the present day.

As the “boss’s” family grew large and larger, with many sons eating up their land, Obwaga had only one son Poti (our grandfather) and six daughters which daughters got married elsewhere, his only son possessed all the 10 acres of land. Poti had two sons and six daughters; unfortunately when one son died at an early age, only one was left Obbo – Poti (our father). Our father was fortunate to have 7 sons and five daughters, but all 7 sons plus two daughters have died due to HIV/AIDS, only one daughter died when giving birth to twins (free from HIV/AIDS).

'"The leaders of this village are going to strungle me to death now that I have no son to claim this land" says my Mother.

The loss of my final brother last week led to our current land problems. According to research by the presidential flag bearer of Federal Alliance Ms. Betty Kamya, in Uganda only 16% of women and children own land through inheritance and co-ownership. In Africa, gender inequalities in land rights are widespread. In addition to having less access to land than their male counterparts, women can often only hold land through male family members. In instances of divorce, widowhood or a husband’s migration, women run the risk of losing such entitlements.
Improved land and agricultural policies are also top on the women’s demand list. According to the research done by The Observer, a Ugandan news paper, Women till most of the land for commercial and subsistence purposes, but only own 7% it.
The patriarchal society insists the land belongs to males. Women are demanding laws and policies that will allow them to own a fair share of the land they have worked so hard to develop.

Another example by Inter Press Service is Regina Namukasa who has been twice dispossessed — first when her husband died and his clan left her out when dividing up his estate, and again when she was denied a share in her father's land. But this time she's fighting back.
Fifteen years ago, Namukasa's husband died, and she did not struggle with his relatives for a share of his estate; she moved back to her own family's home in central Uganda's Luwero district with her three children to start a new life.
But when her father died, his sisters decided only her younger brother was entitled to a share in the land, and asked her to leave.

Uganda's constitution grants women equality and legal protection against discriminatory traditional practice, but there have been no reforms to the law and the constitutional provision has had little impact.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, customary law is hindering efforts to reform land tenure and increase women’s access to and ownership of land.
Despite the fact that women form the majority of subsistence farmers in Africa, and play a critical role in food security, they typically have limited control over land.

'Far fewer women own land than men,' says Fatou Diop Sall, 'and often have access to land only through male family members, marking them as dependent mothers, wives or daughters. In cases where couples divorce, or a man dies, women often run the risk of losing their entitlement to land.'
Sall is the coordinator of a research project on gender and society at the University of Gaston Berger in Senegal.
Sall says Senegalese law stipulates that men and women have equal access to land. But just as in Uganda, the reality on the ground is markedly different. Women's representation on village land councils, for example, is limited; when it comes to inheritance, women are also often excluded.

'Despite what the law says, women are blocked from land control by cultural and economic factors. Most women do not have the financial might required to purchase a piece of land. When families are sharing out pieces of land, women are not allocated portions,' Sall says.
Namukasa's grandfather originally gave the piece of land in question to her father, and her aunts ruled it belongs to the clan; having been married, they say, Namukasa must look to her deceased husband's family.
'It's because of culture which dictates that girls are worthless and should get their share where they get married,' Namukasa told IPS.

She has turned to the courts to defend her rights. 'I approached the resident district commissioner for Nakawa, Fred Bamwine, who helped me by taking [the case] to court.' Namukasa is a defiant exception to the rule in Uganda and elsewhere.
Namukasa is a defiant exception to the rule in Uganda and elsewhere, she is a role model in my own current struggle to save my family's land, which we are losing because of my brother's death. When a family loses all of its menfolk, the land can be the next to go. In my case, it is AIDS that is wiping out my brothers and many other Ugandans.

HIV/AIDS has wiped out the majority of families not only in my village but the entire country, sub-Saharan Africa and most of the developing countries. The very high rate of HIV infection experienced in Uganda during the 80's and early 90's.

Health experts are warning that HIV prevalence is still high among women in Uganda.
The Minister for Health, Stephen Malinga says high HIV cases among women increases the risk of death during pregnancy and delivery. He says the challenges encountered by HIV/AIDS positive mothers are contributing directly to Uganda’s maternal mortality rate.The minister was speaking during a press conference in Kampala.
He warns that unless issues affecting women with HIV/AIDS are addressed, Uganda’s efforts at achieving the millennium development goals may be strained. An estimated 630,000 women are currently leaving with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

HIV/AIDS in this country has been approached as more than a ‘health’ issue and in 1992 a “Multi-sectoral AIDS Control Approach” was adopted. In addition, the Uganda AIDS Commission, also founded in 1992, has helped develop a national HIV/AIDS policy. A variety of approaches to AIDS education have been employed, ranging from the promotion of condom use to 'abstinence only' programmes.

To further Uganda's efforts in establishing a comprehensive HIV/AIDS program, in 2000 the MOH implemented birth practices and safe infant feeding counseling. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 41,000 women received Preventing Mother To child Transmission (PMTCT) services in 2001. Uganda was the first country to open a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) clinic in Africa called AIDS Information Centre and pioneered the concept of voluntary HIV testing centers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Ugandan government, through President Yoweri Museveni, has promoted this as a success story in the fight against HIV and AIDS, arguing it has been the most effective national response to the pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Though equally there has in recent years been growing criticism that these claims are exaggerated, and that the HIV infection rate in Uganda is on the rise, perhaps linked to over-emphasis on abstinence at the expense of condom use.
A number of organizations committed to fighting HIV/AIDS have launched a campaign to have all candidates participating in the 2011 Uganda General elections to pledge their commitment towards fighting HIV/AIDS.

To this day the impact of HIV/AIDS is very alarming in Uganda. Great numbers are living HIV-positive, including women and children (orphans, widows and widowers). Infected children stand a higher chance of infecting their peers as they become teens, and the circle continues. Orphaned children stand on an island of lack of support and most especially education. It is the very orphans we are employed as house maids and servants to the well to do families, only the fortunate minority receive support from the existing charity organizations.
HIV/AIDS remains one of the leading causes of deaths in Uganda, and a key development challenge as many HIV positive people spend scarce resources on treating opportunistic infections, fail to work due to sickness, as well as resulting in many orphans and dependants in addition to the increased burden to provide Antiretroviral drugs and other care.

Despite relentless efforts by the government of Uganda to fight the HIV/AIDS scourge, the HIV prevalence rates have stagnated in the past seven years causing concern among various stakeholders.

The silent cries of my mother, my orphaned nieces and nephews throb my heart daily, it challenges me, I am overshadowed with so many responsibilities. I am appealing to the people of Uganda to think about the lives of the innocent, the women and children. I am crying to the policy makers, land reformers to strongly defend the rights of the poor and the disadvantaged like my own family. The roots are STRONG, pressing the hearts of the voiceless children and widows. I am talking about the Strong roots of HIV and AIDS that swallowed my only brother, first born and the last to be buried last week.

Majority of Ugandan women today are running around in the political atmosphere for the forth coming general elections, they are attending rallies, performing dances and dramas therein. They are burning silently with these issues and the politicians running the national general election campaigns are making promises for support. I appeal to you politicians, if elected fulfill your promises, you are the eyes of the needles.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Mother and son in the Hospital
Mother and sick Joseph
send off Mass

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Comments

Beatrice, congratulations on writing such a fluid and powerful piece. I so admire your strength in being able to write about something that affects you so personally. Personal, well-written stories such as yours are so often the impetus that helps effect real change. I'm in awe of your strength. Condolences again on the loss of your brother and all your family is going through.

In solidarity,

Becki

AchiengNas's picture

Thank you Becki

Becki,
I would like to thank you for all the encouragements you gave me in the depth of sorrow. From the period when my brother was ill to this date. Thank you and thank you for your mentorship me in writing this story and posting in time.

Thank you.

Beatrice

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Fungai Machirori's picture

You are brave

After all that you have been through in the last few days, I commend you for your braveness. Your story is so sad but I know that you are strong, stroonger even than your words.

As for property rights and inheritance, that too is a predicament that we in Zimbabwe suffer. Women are seen as non-entities because we do not continue family names. Therefore the land cannot be ours. I dare ask if any of your brothers had sons as it usually happens that should the males all be deceased, thd land passes on to their sons.

Many thanks for this piece Bea.
You are in my thoughts.

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

AchiengNas's picture

Fungai

I am grateful for your comments dear. The strong inner man within me is always alert, when I am almost lost in worry, he wakes me up with a sweet song. God is close and always with me.

I have three nephews, they are all below 18 years of age. They inherit the land but still very young to scare the hungry elders.

Once again thank you being there.

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

WILDKat's picture

He died. An hour ago.

Beautiful Beatrice,

From a haunting, sparse email with only these words in the title, you shock us into a deeper understanding of the larger struggle the loss of your last brother means for you, your family, and your nation. Without property rights women in your nation will continue to suffer under tribal rule. One story can, at times, awaken a nation. Yours possesses the terrible truth that could shape a fresh way forward in shifting rights for all Ugandan women. You have a vision of a brighter day for women in your country. Your story compels us all to feel the loss for your community without it.

Terrible tragedy seems to be sharpening your words for terrific transformation. May you and Uganda let go of the loss and turn grief into grace for the greatest good. For Joseph you write, for your mother you plea, for Uganda you demand better for women, and for yourself, ah well, you simply glow.

Becki and I are both honored to be gently supporting you now.
Your strength of heart is astonishing.
Touched by your courage,
we are humbled in reading your words.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

AchiengNas's picture

Thank you Kat

Dear Kat,
Your mentor-ship gave me courage to carry on. I shall carry on with the struggle until we women of Tororo and of Uganda are given ultimate ownership of land. I will walk the mile to see that we are not evicted out of our own land.

Again thank you for your mentorship.

Beatrice

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Emie Zozobrado's picture

Bea!!!!!!

Goodness gracious, Beatrice!!!!! You are an incredibly courageous young woman! To have gone through so much and still be able to talk about the pain, the hardships, the ordeals and the fears with so much power! Thanks a lot for sharing this with us, Bea. Your truth is your country's challenge. One woman speaking out with this much strength and conviction, Bea, your voice echoes the silent cries of the women in Uganda. Keep the faith in your struggle, sister. They always say "look to the sunlight and you will not see the shadow..." The loss of your brothers brought a much greater loss to your whole family. But, Bea, the Steel Magnolias has this to say, "What does not kill you makes you stronger." And you know what this means, of course .... all the best...

Always,
Emie Zozobrado

AchiengNas's picture

Dear Emie

Emie, I am so grateful for such a powerful encouragement. Your quotes give me more hope to face the future.
Thank you for giving me hope.

Bea

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Emie Zozobrado's picture

We are sisters, Bea!

Bea, we are here for each other! You have sisters all across the globe to talk with, to cry with ... to be with all the way.... all the best...

Always,
Emie Zozobrado

SAsong's picture

Law Vs Tradition

Yours is a story of strength and courage. Thank you. I enjoyed reading this piece and the personal experience. My heart goes to your and your family, but you are a strong woman and you are still here. Keep up. I am so sorry for your loss. Hugz and prayers.

AchiengNas's picture

Thank you

I am grateful dear. May the experience of my family bring hope and sense of belonging not only to Ugandan women but those facing the same challenges worldwide.

Beatrice

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Dear Beatrice, You speak with such force and beauty and courage. Where do you find the strength? I grieve for you and your family...and for all of Uganda. Thank you for putting your grief into such powerful words. Everything you say matters!

AchiengNas's picture

Thans Potter

The inner man in me gives me the strength, he keeps my heart warm with a new song each day. My mentors Becki and Kat, Rachael, Scott, and ALL the women and men in WP you inclusive have been and are giving me the courage and hope - reason for my strength.

I am grateful you wrote.

Beatrice

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

emillam's picture

Your Story of Strength and Courage

Beatrice, your story is so very sad, and yet I am inspired by your courage and bravery. You speak for so many women, children, and those who are left out of the basic rights of humans in the sub-saharan African countries. You are an amazing woman to be able to document the politics and the cultural elements that have kept women from having what is rightfully theirs. I trust that you can speak for many and help your country make the profound changes happen to see that the law and new reforms become truly the standard for all. My heart and prayers go out to you as you work as a leader to make your voice heard.

May God bless you and your family! Elaine

Elaine R. Millam

AchiengNas's picture

Than you Elaine

Elaine, I am grateful for your comment. I am appealing to the leaders of Uganda, women representatives to use their offices as opportunity for justice, tabling and concluding the rights of women and children. For how long will these issues end as debate?

I am grateful you wrote.

Beatrice

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Ruun Abdi's picture

Dearest Beato, You are very

Dearest Beato,

You are very brave and strong woman. I admire you and your strength, you wrote something that affected you personally and took the courage to present it well. Your story is so sad yet so informative. I pray God to give you and your family the courage to go through this situation.

Warmest regards,
RA

Rudzanimbilu's picture

Thank you for sharing Beatrice....

Dear Beatrice,

I read your journal over and over again trying to figure out how you did it. Well done for sharing your powerful story and this is really amazing. Its so powerful because there's hope, there's courage and most of all your voice is loud and clear. I am so sorry about your brother's loss and all the family members who have passed on, may the Lord bless them. I know you are an incredible woman who is solutions oriented and who loves her family. In South Africa, things are a bit different I must confess, it's very hard to take land from the true owners even if they are just children but in most cases it is the family members who sell the land leaving the children with no tangible investment. I'm really proud of you for taking us through this journey, for your strength and voice.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

WILDKat's picture

Shero, you roll...

Beatrice,

Today the mentors heard your story and are moved. You need to know that your story has served us all to be brave, loving, and strong. Those with whom I share your story agree that you are our shero. You followed your heart, spoke your truth, and are moving many to deeper humanity. Clearly you supported your mother during her hour of greatest need. You turned what could have been paralizing tragedy into a miraculous happy ending.

Sheding light into dark traditions of tribal culture is a risky business and you defended an evolved and fairer resolution for your family's survival. As Uganda grows its values friendlier to women and girls, you roll out a vision of a rising in a caring culture in your village first, sub-saharan Africa next. You inspire with your personal story a universal evolution as critical to Uganda as was Martin Luther King in America and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. I am honored to know you and hope that someday it will be in person.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

AchiengNas's picture

Thank you Kat

I am happy the mentors heard my story. Through you I get the knowledge and skills for social expression that brings justice to the world today. I am grateful you chose to mentor me.
There is a fire within me, a fire for justice and truth revealed. The first and very valuable opportunity for my freedom of expression is World Pulse. I realized more of socialization, sensitization, and focus in this great house. As long as I live, I will fight for justice, for what is true, for the good of women, children, for the good of families, and communities within my reach.

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

rmweaver's picture

Beatrice, What a brave,

Beatrice,

What a brave, strong, thoughtful and caring woman you are. I am so touched by your words and the courage you have shown persevering through this difficult time to tell this important story. The subject matter is so very personal to you and it is such an important story to tell.

It is by telling these stories that change might begin to take root. It is clear that you will be an integral part of bringing about change in your country. Blessings to you and your family.

Rebecca

warona's picture

OH MY GOD!

Dear Nas,

What a piece! You are talking about the very thing that eats away my Joy.If at all in your country you experience this, then we are both under siege. The scourge is so much and is so devastating and it remains the reason for life losse.I am so touched by your words,exactly what you experince there is the same thing my country men experince,but here mostly the epidemic is well driven by my country men 's behaviours. The situation in Uganda about HIV/AIDS is well spoken.Am actually grateful to your piece. Well thanks to God we are now connected.Keep shedding your tears they will never drop on this ground unanswered.

I want to believe that efforts pertaining to this are being made.Like wild kat says for South Africa to receive freedom from that apertheid Nelson Mandela was restless,even after a period of 27 years in prison,he stood by his words,today we see a new South Africa. He is a hero.As you arise from your slumber i want to assure you Nas that the impact you are doing there is so amazing.So keep being restless about the situation,Voice it up dear,say it!
You are a strong woman dear.

All the best

Warona

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

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