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read the full story
Hi. My name is Rosemary and I am part of Power Women Group in Kibera Slum here in Kenya. We are 10 members at the moment. We came together in 2004. The main reason we came together is because we are HIV positive. We met at a clinic that takes care of children who are HIV-positive as we have children among us who are also HIV positive – we were getting them medication. We decided to come together because there was a lot of stigma and discrimination against people with HIV and we believed we could change our community. We started doing door to door awareness every Saturday to educate people about HIV. Most people did not know what HIV was but by 2006, the people in our community knew better. We wanted to continue working together, so we started saving money as a group, then making and selling red ribbons for World AIDS Day. Eventually, we met a woman from Sweden who suggested that we begin making more than just red ribbons – we realized that we could only sell our ribbons once a year. So, we started making necklaces, earrings, bracelets. Then we started tailoring. We expanded our business bit by bit. Our shop is important because is helps us to get our daily bread. We use the profits to support ourselves and our families.
This year, starting in March, life became hard because of COVID-19. Our medications are very hard on the stomach so we must take food with it. However, there are no tourists coming to Kenya at the moment, no business, and therefore less money for food. We were also feeling anxious because the doctors were telling us that because we are HIV positive, it was easy for us to get COVID. But we thank God because up to now, there is no one who is infected.
Stigma effects the mental health of women living with HIV. It can cause a lot of stress. The neighbour can tell their kid not to play with your kid because you are infected and you can infect their child. Some women stop taking their medication because of depression. They are tired of life because of stigma, they can’t pay their children’s school fees, they don’t have food. Some women kill themselves. They think they will die and they lose hope. That is why we decided to come out and talk about it, because the more we keep quiet about it, the worse the stigma becomes. Enough is enough.
When a women are tested positive for HIV, the doctor will often refer them to us for counselling. We are able to tell them about HIV and our experiences living with it. We are able to show them that they can live a long healthy life. Me, I found out I was HIV positive in 2001 and I am still alive. When I found out I was HIV positive, I cried and had lost hope. I thank the counselor, a social worker from Tanzania, who helped me. She was HIV positive and told me not to worry and to be strong.
My hope is that tourists will return to Kenya so that we can support ourselves again. As a group, we want to go back to our homes up country to help other women living with HIV as well, to counsel them and share our skills with them so they can also support themselves.