Over the years we have captured many HIV and AIDS-related stories for different NGOs. Each has been inspiring and eye-opening in its own way, but we thought we would share the story of Charles and Elizabeth who we met last year when we were story gathering in Kenya for Merlin. For us, their story sums up so well the journey many have been on in coming to terms with their status, tackling stigma and building a happy life. It also shows the important role NGOs have played in these journeys.
Charles stands up in front of a Merlin support group at Kisii Level 5 hospital and speaks of his experiences as an HIV+ man. He is confident, honest and encourages other members to speak about their experiences. Ten years ago he was desperately sick with TB and terrified about taking an HIV test. Deep down he knew he was likely to be HIV+ but he didn’t want to face the truth. He believed his life would be over, that he would be cast out and would never be get married or have children.
It was a Merlin health worker who encouraged him to take the test and was by his side as he began to take his treatment and joined a support group. It was at that support group he met his wife Elizabeth. They married in 2007 and five years on they have three children – Benedict, Brandon & Duncan – all born HIV-. Pregnancy was a frightening time for Elizabeth; she had discovered she was HIV+ during her first pregnancy with a previous partner and that baby died at three months old.
“When I was carrying Benedict I was always thinking I would have a HIV+ baby and that made me worry so much. I had no hopes in life and thought I would never have a family. I started taking drugs five months into my pregnancy but I didn’t believe they could help me because I had already seen a dead baby. When the baby came out to be negative I was so happy that my baby would be a new generation.”
Elizabeth and Charles are now living the life neither of them imagined they’d have. They have a small patch of land where they keep two goats and grow their own vegetables, many of which are grown as a result of the nutrition training have received as part of their HIV counselling. They are active members of their support groups, helping others in the way they were once helped.
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