The region in which Kumi is situated has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in Uganda. Despite this, the communities here have a limited understanding about the virus and how it’s transferred, so people who are living with HIV face heavy stigmatisation – especially women, making it even harder for them to survive and support their children. I recently met a lady called Kasfer, who is 28 years old and lives in Kumi with her husband, Felix, and their two daughters. Both Kasfer and Felix are HIV positive. Read how ActionAid child sponsorship has helped them cope and manage to keep their daughters in school.
Stigma and struggling to get support
“My husband, Felix, and I work for the town council, maintaining the roads,” explains Kasfer. “My job is steady and I get a monthly wage of 100,000 Ugandan Shillings (£18), while Felix does smaller, odd jobs. When I was sick, it was very challenging for us as I am the main breadwinner in the family.” Without a stable income, Kasfer and Felix couldn’t afford to send their children to school so their two daughters were forced to drop out.
Without access to information about HIV and how it is transmitted, sadly communities often punish the patient: women especially are blamed for spreading the virus and are cast out or abandoned by their families as if it is entirely their own fault.
“My parents were ashamed that I am HIV positive,” Kasfer explains. “They labelled me a prostitute and refused to care for me when I was ill. My life was very miserable during this time.”
As well as the lack of awareness about HIV and AIDS in Kumi, there is also a lack of skilled medical practitioners, which means that community members who are living with HIV struggle to access the support they need.
“To cope, I stayed indoors but my condition got worse and I came very close to dying. My grandmother eventually took me to Kumi hospital but then just abandoned me there, for anyone who cared.”
Power of the peer educators
Thanks to the support of our child sponsors, ActionAid and our local partner organisation, NACWOLA (National Community for Women Living with HIV and AIDs) trained 15 women from Kumi who are living with HIV to become peer educators.
Whilst in hospital, Kasfer was visited by her local Peer Educator, Josephine, who provided her with counselling. Josephine spoke to Kasfer about the importance of adhering to her medication plan and eating a healthy diet to boost her immunity.
“By taking my drugs as Josephine taught me, my strength has greatly increased and I can work more hours, which means I can cover my daughters’ school fees.”
In addition to the counselling and testing services provided by the peer educators, child sponsorship funds also help pay for the peer educators to train women and teenage girls from Kumi in activities to help them earn an income.
“I feel very lucky because Josephine trained me and 47 other women with HIV in mushroom growing,” continues Kasfer. “My family and I eat the mushrooms I have grown, which make our diets more nutritious. Then I sell what I have left over in order to boost our income.”
No more living in shame
Josephine also organised meetings in Kasfer’s community, where she spoke about HIV and AIDS and the value of women. “My family attended the meetings and I am so happy to say that now they understand my condition and accept me!” says Kasfer.
As a result of the meetings and outreaches organised by the peer educators, the stigma surrounding the virus in Kumi has drastically reduced and many community members have voluntarily been tested for HIV. Furthermore, over 1,000 men from the communities here have joined a campaign to get better reproductive health services for women.
“I have even helped my husband to accept his status,” says Kasfer. “In the past, when he went to pick up his drugs from the hospital, if he saw someone he knew, he would quickly leave without collecting his medicines and then he fell sick. But now he is no longer afraid of being seen and can freely talk about his HIV status.”
The 15 women trained by ActionAid as peer educators are working in seven health centres and hospitals across the Kumi district. Last year, 2,844 people from Kumi benefitted from their services.
None of this would have been possible without the support of our child sponsors. If you already sponsor a child – thank you for making such big developments like this possible. Why not tell your friends and family what it means to you by sharing this blog?
If you aren't yet a child sponsor but have been inspired by Kasfer’s story then please consider sponsoring a child with ActionAid. It really does change lives, for good.
Photos: Deborah Acam/ActionAid