Surprising storytellers

As I was busy trying to get the laptop and projector set up for our Annual General Meeting, I noticed two young girls enter the room and head toward the back.  I was surprised to see them because the meeting was for our partners, who are all adults, and I was curious about who they were and why they were there.  I was even more surprised when I found out that they had offered to come share their stories as beneficiaries of Mengo’s HIV/AIDS Clinic.  Here are their stories:

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Monica (left) is currently 13 years old and is in seventh grade.  As a young child, she was thin, had a poor appetite, and was generally very sickly.  One day her mother took her to Mengo to be tested for HIV and she tested positive with a very low CD4 count.  Her mother explained to her what it meant to be HIV positive, and started taking her to Mengo regularly for treatment.  She also joined the Mengo clinic’s childrens club and Mengo sponsored her and paid her school fees all the way from first until seventh grade.  In Monica’s words, after several years of treatment she is now, “healthy, good looking, and ok.”  Her advice to us?  “Everyone should go and get tested.  If they are positive, they should take good care of themselves.  If young children are positive, they should give them treatment and take good care of them.”

Asumpta (right) is 15 years old and is an orphan.  Her father died when she was only 2 years old, and her mother died when she was 4 years old.  After her parents died, Asumpta and her siblings went to live with her uncle and his family.  When her sister noticed she was sick all the time, she took Asumpta to Mengo where she tested positive for HIV.  She was enrolled in their program and started taking ARVs.  Once she started treatment, she stopped getting sick, was able to attend school regularly, and joined the adolescents club at Mengo for HIV positive teenagers where she learned that “it’s not a crime to be positive.”  Through the adolescent club, she has learned skills, gained self confidence, and has learned how to live positively.

I was so inspired by the courage and confidence displayed by these young women.  In Uganda, HIV/AIDS is still stigmatized and many people are ashamed to share their status with their spouses and families, let alone in public (I did get their permission to share their names and picture).  For these two young teenagers to share their stories with a room full of adults was both inspiring and surprising.  We are grateful for the work that Mengo has been doing to restore the health and give hope and encouragement to young women like Monica and Asumpta.

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