OVERCOMING VIOLENCE -TO REPAIR BROKEN HEARTS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS
Overcoming violence, living for crushed lives-with mission to repair broken hearts.
In Malowa Oduol’ report(Kenya Magazine, February 2011) about the story of Asunta wagura, I was thrilled at how Asunta turned her rejection, discrimination, hopelessness, snares, victimizations, into one of A fulfilled life.
Asunta, a mother of three handsome boys, is a go-getter who rarely takes no for an answer. Is very simple, accessible and flexible; she can fit in anywhere, and live anywhere. Simple things add flavour to her life…….and quality time with her family.
She grew up in a small, remote village, Kihuyo, in the vicinity of the famous Muhoya’s Hill. Her parents became coffee farm squatters, offering labour in exchange for food. However her dad ensured she went to school, which was located about 3 km away. Attending school involved taking a packed lunch and sometimes, when she didn’t have anything to pack; she carried a small empty basket and a bottle of water, to pretend they had food to fool the strict headmaster, who insisted that every child brought lunch, even though some of them could not afford it. Sometimes she found herself at home because her parents owed KSh 2 school fees arrears. In School, Asunta worked hard and maintained position one.After A-level Asunta enrolled at a medical school. This is where all her dreams were shattered, after a general check-up, all students had to submit to. It was a Monday morning and Asunta and her colleagues were going to do a human anatomy test. I heard soft footsteps approaching the door of the classroom where we were sitting for our exam. Softly, the tutor told Asunta to hand in her paper and go to the principal’s office.
Without taking the time to prepare me, or counsel her as they do these days, the principal said, “Asunta, I’m sorry you have AIDS.” She didn’t hear the rest as she went blank for a complete 20 seconds or so, and when she came to herself, she continued, “and now that you are dying we cannot continue keeping you here and that’s why we invited your mother to come and take you home for you last days.”
Sure enough, my mother was seated next to me and I longed for that time when I was small and she would hold me close and tell me, “It will be alright!” She looked distant. One tutor explained to her mother in Kiswahili that Asunta had contracted a prostitutes’ disease and that she had very short time to live before she died.
As Asunta reached the door the principal called her back. Asunta guessed the principal felt she had completely crushed her dreams, plans, character, faith, future, and her today!
The principal called her back and said, “I don’t mean you are going to die immediately, you may live for some time – in fact you may live for up to six months!”Asunta asked herself, “What is six months?” She had dreamt about completing school, starting a good career, redeeming her family from poverty, getting married, having a beautiful wedding and ensuring her children lead good, comfortable, quiet lives. She asked herself what could she could do in six months?Everyone including my own family changed their attitudes about Asunta and thought, “There goes the prostitute!” She decided she had to go public and tell people that this disease is not for prostitutes because she was not a prostitute, even though she was infected. She didn’t choose it! It could happen to anyone, just anyone!
She started writing to educate people and to contribute towards reducing the stigma people living with HIV/AIDS were exposed to. In the beginning she wanted to hide, but she reasoned even if she hid in the crowd, she still would not fit in, because deep within her she knew she was not like the crowd. She had to deal with the self stigma and stigma from other people; she found support through the formation of a group of people who could identify with her. This is how she ended up founding KENWA.
KENWA is Kenya network of women with aids aimed at improving the quality of the lives of people living with AIDS. KENWA is an NGO started in 1993 to create a forum where we as infected women can educate people. Since then Asunta says a lot has changed, “HIV/AIDS perception has changed in that the stigma has reduced significantly and people have come to appreciate they can live with and support people who are infected without getting infected themselves,” explains Wagura. The care and support to pwople who caome to KENWA is done through support, treatment, counselling, group therapy and economic empowerment. Her mission is to repair broken hearts. She has had success stories including that of Eva; a 15-year-old girl, Eva, who weighed less than 10 kg, was going to die because of HIV and AIDS. She was put on ARVs, a balanced diet and physiotherapy and she improved every day! Now she is in high school. She could not believe it when they bought a metal trunk for Eva to go to Form One.Eva wants to be a doctor. Other women who are HIV positive and facing stigmatization who come to KENWA leave smiling and with hope. At KENWA, they find a friend, and a sister who supports them and walks with them.
….”The best part of my day is attending to clients who have reached the end of their tether and, after we have spoken, they leave my office smiling, not because they now have all the answers, but because they know someone cares and they are the drivers of their own lives” says Asunta.
As Director she aims at Fighting Ignorance she sees that one of the most important aspects of the fight against HIV infection is getting tested and talking about the disease. She also believes in small actions with big differences in lives of disadvantaged groups. She has moved from focus on health to sustainability.
World leaders need to;
o continue education, sustainability and integration of the same into HIV awareness campaign
o Stop stigmatization at institutions of learning
o Support the dreams and aspirations of HIV positive women and girls
o Say no to violating the academic rights of people infected with HIV-give them chance to go to school and live their dreams after school
o Documentation of all the noble things women do to help motivate disadvantaged groups to move on in life, if not recognizing their contribution in the society.
Asunta, I celebrate and honour you for your bold steps and sacrifices you made in the fight against stigma that have made available the shoulders for others to lean on!! Even when your human rights and the rights to your education were violated, you picked up yourself and ensure daily that women facing stigma access those rights....!Thank you