Building a community of women that support each other

Kyeitembe, a small village located on the outskirts Kampala in Uganda is my home area. Our house neighbors farms and forests. Growing up in this neighborhood was fun. We often played hide and seek with our friends in the forests until it got dark. Mother always waited for our return with a big stick. My siblings and I were beaten blue and black, but that didn’t stop us from going back to play with our friends the following day. Oh,kids!

Years passed; I was now 12 years old. With a jerrycan of water on my head, I walked home on my way back from the well. A man, clearly drunk and maybe in his 50s, grabbed me and dragged me into the bush where he raped me. I was powerless to fight him. I couldn’t scream as my mouth was covered with his filthy hands. Heavens, I curse that day.

I was later taken to the hospital where it was found I am HIV positive. The man was never arrested. My family never wanted to be in shame. To this day, that rapist walks free. I grew up with so much anger and pain. To this day, I have not healed. Not with that man free and with my parents not getting justice for me. I hated myself.

I went to the city and lived with my aunt. She took me to senior school. Far away from home. My troubles seemed to have gone away. I concentrated on my academics. I was also excellent in sports. I later joined college. I was lucky to have had my aunt during that period. She picked up my medication from the hospital where I was registered as an HIV/AIDS patient and encouraged me to take them on time. I obeyed her and that’s how I managed to pass through school with minimal illness.

After school, I got a job. My job was well-paid and I managed to save some money at months’ end. During my monthly hospital visits, I met and shared with women and children of the same status. That’s how I got to understand that some of these women were single mothers who couldn’t afford to take care of themselves and their children. Some children were abandoned by their parents because of their status. Some girls shared how they were infected by their boyfriends, others lured into sex by men that infected them. Other girls were raped and infected just like I was.

Looking into their eyes, one could see all the pain they were holding.

One evening, I was reading through some blogs and I was inspired by a lady that was making a difference by sensitizing women and girls in her community about teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDs. When she held meetings, she provided women with sanitary pads. Wow! I had so many thoughts and ideas. I have always been passionate about baking, cooking, and fashion. I thought about how I could use these ventures to support the women and girls in my community and use it as a way to sensitize them about sexuality, HIV/AIDs, and teenage pregnancies.

With support from a few staff at the hospital, I was guided and educated about the problems being faced by women and girls in the local community. I am thankful to the nurses who sacrificed their time to talk to my people.

Back in my village, I rented a place where I met with members of my community. Through baking, women learned how to be independent and support their families. There were also cooking classes. I managed to get a sewing machine where some women learned to sew and design clothes they could then sell. We started saving money from the profits made. At the end of the month, we would buy pads, contraceptives and books which we shared amongst members of our group. Women and girls were taught to be more assertive, independent, clean, respectful and hardworking. These girls picked up new skills, and we have managed to successfully set up snack stalls.  The stalls are generating income that is supporting their education and livelihoods. This initiative has attracted some organizations which have been of great support. The women, girls and children that were once discriminated upon have found a home and comfort in our community group.

I am proud to say that I am HIV undetectable. Through those horrible experiences, I came out stronger. I am happy to see these women fighting for their rights, providing for their families and rising together as women. The joy of seeing girls going back to school is beyond measure.

I am thankful to the schools who give us the platform to talk to their students about sexuality and HIV/AIDs. Community leaders who have been able to support women groups we appreciate you. And I am thankful that my village has since banned day drinking, a measure that has reduced on rape cases in teenage girls.

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