A letter from… Ethiopia
As a widow living together with my only daughter of eight years, I was ashamed of my HIV status, so I kept it secret from both my daughter and other people. One day, my daughter came home troubled by some neighbours who had hinted that her mother might be HIV-infected. I was shocked and didn’t know how to answer; so I denied everything and said they lied about me. The truth was that I was lying to my daughter!
The HIV association I belonged to was invited to take part in the Bible Society’s Good Samaritan programme in 2010. This training changed everything for me. HIV was not a punishment for sin, as I had been told when my husband died. HIV infection is no more shameful than other sicknesses, and we can get treatment and live positively. At the workshop, I started to share my experiences. And the material that I received to train others, I first used on my daughter. I gave her the booklet to read, and we saw a film about a young student who got infected. I encouraged her to ask questions about what she read and saw. Finally I asked her directly: “Why do you think we have all this HIV information in our house?” Then I shared openly with her about my status.
My daughter was shocked. She read more and asked many questions. Then I said to her: “Why are you only sitting inside? Do you think you will die?” She answered: “No, but I am afraid my mother will die. And I am afraid others will hear about you and say terrible things about us.”
I had to give her time, but today she is as open as me. We have nothing to hide! Sometimes when she has got a banana she gives it to me saying: “This is good for your health, mammy.” If I have sores, she helps me to treat them. We are very careful to have all personal effects separated; we know how to be cautious.
I use all opportunities to reach out with information about HIV, especially to prevent mother-to-child infection. I work closely with the local medical centre and I have decided to reach out to every woman in my area urging her to get tested and if necessary to get treatment to prevent the child becoming infected. I talk with women individually and train groups of women and men, both separately and together.
At one point I had 360 pregnant women on my follow-up list and we got 359 HIV-free children! This is my success story. It makes me feel useful and happy.
When I learnt I was infected, I felt weak and had great pain for many years. But the Good Samaritan programme raised me up. I want to reach the people who are lowest down and most hurt. When I see they can be raised up again, I get strong too.
Hirut Alemayhu is an HIV health trainer on the Good Samaritan programme, an initiative of United Bible Societies, a fellowship of 145 national Bible Societies. To find out more about the programme, including how to support it, visit ubs-goodsamaritan.org or email email@example.com
This article was published in the May 2014 edition of Reform.