Johnfisher M. Ondigo
Some years ago, when Joyline’s sister came to ask for a chance for her in our school, the Beausang Catholic Education Centre, she did something many people feared doing then. She disclosed her sister’s HIV-positive status. It was not even in our school’s policy that this should be done. Joyline had been born with HIV and both her parents had died of AIDS. Her sister looked after her.
When I presented Joyline’s case to the school leadership team during one of our weekly meetings, the reactions were as diverse as the personalities there. One of us thought her presence might endanger other students, putting them at risk of infection. Another two feared she might be stigmatized if the others learned that she had HIV. A good number of us, however, thought this would be one of the best things to happen to the school because Joyline’s presence would be a true reflection of our vision and mission to live out equality, justice and service to in a spirit of compassion and understanding.
Whether or not Joyline eventually disclosed her status to her friends, I don’t know. She was admitted in form two and turned out to be one of the brightest and the most linguistically gifted girls in the school. She was elected unopposed into the students’ leadership council as headgirl and is currently in her second year in one of the public universities pursuing a degree in commerce.
I remembered Joyline’s story recently at St Aloysius Gonzaga in Kibera, the school where I am teaching now. St Aloysius is a secondary school that caters to teenagers of the huge slum of Kibera, Nairobi, who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. We were doing an AHAPPY (AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention for Youth) workshop, specifically the module Facing the world with HIV and AIDS.
This is a reality none of us dare to run away from although many try to, at least initially. For example, how many of us opt to go for VCT? I discussed this with my ‘family’, a group of 11 Form 4 students, at St Aloysius – the school has grouped students into families to meet and offer peer support to one another and the families are now discussing AHAPPY. I learnt that none of them had ever visited a voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre or planned to do so in the near future. Nonetheless, by the end of the first unit of the AHAPPY module, most – about eight – had changed their minds. Our weekly meetings, guided by the contents of the module, led our students to realize the importance of knowing their HIV status. Patricia, one of the family members, said: “I had been sort of indifferent to those who are infected. But now I’ve learnt to accept my family members, relatives and neighbours who are living positively with HIV. I have gotten even closer to them and, although I know myself so well, I’ll definitely go for a test.”
Now, why did I remember Joyline during the workshop? I felt her story captured its spirit. One of the lessons we can draw from her story is that we are all invited to be Good Samaritans to one another. The AHAPPY module, Facing the world with HIV and AIDS, says: “Being a Good Samaritan is about bringing hope to people who need it. We are called to reach out to our brothers and sisters living with HIV and AIDS. There is nothing as comforting as the realization that there are people who are there for you, no matter what situation you are in. There are many people in our community who need this, including those living with HIV and AIDS. Being a volunteer allows you to be of service to the community and a source of hope to the people who need it.”
In my family’s second meeting of the term, I posed this question: “Imagine you discover you are living with the virus. How would you wish to be treated by others, more so your peers?” Martin said: “I wouldn’t wish to be treated differently. They should understand my situation, yes, but not sympathize with me as if I were about to pass on within the next few days.”
Fransciscah added: “I would wish to be given emotional support to continue living positively.” The members were unanimous that understanding, loving and caring friendships are imperative if they are to move on successfully with their lives.