I'm running a 5K with people in Tanzania, the US, and the UK to fund raise for Support for International in their fight against HIV/AIDS.
My name is Elaine Andres and it is my second year working with SIC. Last year when I came as a volunteer, my teaching group surveyed our village when we first arrived. Very few families had even minimal knowledge about HIV and misinformation and stigma surrounded the subject. But by the time we finished our sixth week of teaching, over 140 of our villagers came out to get tested. I continue to work with SIC because it reminded me that though, it’s important to view the world critically, we can’t look at it hopelessly. Change really isn’t possible if we don’t try. Find out why I’m inspired to try. Find out why I’m inspired to fight HIV/AIDS!
Every morning my teaching partner and I would walk into our standard three classroom. Samueli would push himself to the front bench of the class—he’d scramble to carry my bag for me all of three feet to the table beside the black board. We would begin by asking a few review questions. Samueli’s arm would shoot up and he’d flap his hand wildly, shouting teacher in Swahili, “Walimu! Walimu!” I’d always indulge his frantic enthusiasm. He was my favorite student, and for a while, I had no idea how closely he had come to know the indirect effects of what we were teaching.
I would later see Samueli running in front of a small clay house at the edge of our village. Our CHW had taken us here for a patient visit and I was surprised to find that we were there to visit his mother, Mama Samueli. As we walked towards the door, we saw a smiling woman, baby in arm and three children, Samueli included, running up to stand beside her. She looked strong and warm, but tired. She welcomed us into her home and waved the kids away to continue playing outside. We sat around the table closely as she began to tell her story. I recognized something different behind her smile. It was relentless and determined to be strong, to be real.
She told us she found out she was HIV positive when she was pregnant with her youngest child. Having been faithful to her husband, she decided to tell him about her status and encourage him to get tested, knowing that he likely had the virus as well. But when she told him, he blamed her, denounced her as his wife to his family, and left her to take care of their four children—not before taking all of their material possessions and selling them off for money to build his own life without her. Mama Samueli was left to bear the weight of her new HIV status alongside the duties to feed, educate, and care for her four children—without the financial and emotional support of her husband. But Mama Samueli didn’t give up and didn’t give up her children to her husband’s family. She instead picked herself up, sought treatment, found a support group in a neighboring village, and began selling vegetables at the market to provide for her family. She told us that she made just enough to feed her kids and to pay their school fees. Without enough to even feed herself, Mama Samueli told us that most days she took her ARVs on an empty stomach and apologized for not being energetic during our visit. When she saw grief and guilt streak across our faces at this piece of information she told us that it is a small price to pay. She smiled bigger and more warmly than ever. “I’ve tested all of my children. None of them have HIV. And I can watch them grow and go to school.” I can only hope to be as strong as this woman someday. I run for women who fight HIV not only for themselves, but also for their families.