Her Story Is Not Over

Becoming HIV-positive changed Jacky’s life forever. As she told me her story, at multiple points her eyes filled with tears, but she says she finds strength in sharing her story, so she didn’t stop talking until it was over. The thing about it, though, is her story is not over. It just started. Here is Jacky’s story in her own words. She starts her story in 2010, when she lived in Busia in the Western part of Kenya, and her life was very different:

I was a farmer in Busia. I had a husband and one child, and I was so happy. I loved my farm, and would work in it every day, selling some of the produce and feeding my small family with the rest. One day I was going to the clinic for routine check ups with my first born. They talked to me about HIV and I decided to get tested. I was shocked to find that I was HIV-positive. I kept it to myself, and didn’t let it affect me. I just kept working on my farm and living my life.

My husband, I found out later, was unfaithful to me. Many times. Because of HIV, and my weakened immune system, I received many STDs from him that he brought from outside. After some time, I realized that I was pregnant again. For the baby’s sake, I decided to tell my husband about my status so he could help me stay healthy. He left me. His family told me that I no longer belonged to them, so they took my farm, and the house. I was devastated, but I didn’t rest. I moved to Nairobi to look for work. I needed to take care of my children. After some time of not finding a job, I was becoming desperate. Life in Nairobi is hard. I have an Aunt who lives in Mombasa, and she told me I could come stay with her while looking for a job. Shortly after arriving in Mombasa, I gave birth. I gave birth in my room, alone. I was afraid to go to the clinic, because I knew they might reveal my status to my Aunt and I didn’t know how she would react. Looking back, I know this was foolish. Without the help of doctors (and I wasn’t taking my HIV medicine) the risk of passing the virus to my child was high.

I wanted to breast feed, so for the first time, I started taking ARVs (Anti-retroviral drugs to control and diminish HIV). At this time, I also moved into my own place because I was so afraid of my Aunt finding out, but after some time I started getting sick on and off. Sometimes I couldn't get out of bed. I needed my Aunt’s help with the children, so I finally decided to tell her about my HIV. My greatest fears came true. She went mad, and started shouting at me, and went outside and starting shouting to the neighbors telling them my status! I ran from there. I was crying. I couldn’t believe what she did. In that moment she became my enemy... my own family. She should have helped me.


During that time I became so depressed. I stayed inside all day. I never went out. Sometimes I could hear my neighbors talking about me and about my status. I couldn’t go out and face them. I still needed money to take care of my children, so I started making changa’a (moonshine). I would make it at night and sell it at night so I never had to go outside during the day. To make things worse, during this time the medicine I was taking was making me hallucinate. Once, when I was taking the pills, they turned into little coffins and floated around. Sometimes, I could stand up after taking them because I was so dizzy. This time was so hard for me. Once, I drank battery acid trying to end my life, but I threw it all up.

I knew I needed to change my prescription because the medicine shouldn’t have been affecting me that way. So, I decided to go to the clinic to get new drugs. My stigma was so high, it took me multiple attempts to go inside. I would walk up to the door, and at the last minute I would just keep walking. When I finally one day decided to go in, I saw a lady that I knew. It terrified me to see her, but I was already inside, so I just sat down. She came over and greeted me. She was so kind, and encouraged me, and we exchanged phone numbers. Her name is Agatha.

Shortly after that, I got a job working as a maid. The woman I worked for was a professional counselor. She would talk to me, and was helping me start to overcome my stigma. After a few weeks, Agatha called me, and said there was a program that would give me weekly food packages. I wanted this for my children, so one day I got permission from my employer, and I went to Agatha’s house. There, I met John and Sarah, from Mikindani (CARE for AIDS' first center in Mombasa). They told me about the program and registered me to join. My stigma was still very high, so after they left, I waited a few hours to leave. I didn’t want anyone to associate my with them, because they were known for working with HIV. 


My first breakthrough happened at the launch (the very first day of the program where all the clients come together for orientation, fellowship, and a meal). I walked in, and I saw amongst the other clients many people that I knew. Some of them were my neighbors! I never knew that they were HIV-positive. I just laughed. We had all been hiding from each other!

Through the counseling from John and Sarah, things starting improving quickly. I started feeling hopeful. I started gaining weight - I was under [90 pounds] when I started the program, now I’m around [120]!

One day, some people came to John and Sarah looking for some of us who would be willing to share about our status. I volunteered. Only a few months previous, I was afraid to go to the clinic to get my drugs, now I was at that same clinic talking to over a hundred people about my status, encouraging them to get tested. The clinic really liked me, and the hired me as a peer counselor and community mobilizer. In November we went on a campaign where we traveled around different cities sharing about HIV. Can you believe that? Me! Talking into a microphone about my status.


I’m so grateful to CFA. I graduated in January, and my life has completely changed. I’m living a good life now. I don’t make illegal brew anymore. I don’t hide in my house anymore. I forgave my Aunt, and she has accepted me. She’s even my best friend now. People know me now. They invite me to speak. People call me to order cakes - I’m really good at baking.

Another thing - when I first came to CFA, I wasn’t going to church. Now I do. I’ve seen how God takes care of us, and how He has a plan for us. I joined a church. I am trying to follow Him. I’ve seen that when we are close to Him, He really blesses us. For example, after joining that church, they enrolled my children in a program that connects them to sponsors who pay for their school fees. That has helped me so much.

I’ve come a long way from my life in Busia when I was a farmer. For the first time since then, I can say again that I have a good life. Thank you CFA for helping me find it.


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Susan

Susan Wambura is one of the lucky ones.

At the time of her HIV diagnosis, she was also pregnant with her first child. As would be expected, Susan was flooded with fear about the health of her unborn child. Would the baby suffer? Would it also have to live with the virus?

Miraculously, the answer was no. In 2008, Susan gave birth to a healthy, happy baby.

“I had thought my life was finished,” she says of her pregnancy and diagnosis. “I understand now, after coming to the CARE for AIDS center, that if you take your medications as prescribed, you can be safe.”

And thanks to CARE for AIDS, hundreds of lives are being saved, just like Susan and her baby.

“When I came to the center, I met others like me,” she says. “And I see that life can be the same as it was [before HIV]. There are other diseases out there, and people live with them normally. HIV is the same.”

“Life is not bad,” she continues. “And I have the strength now to keep on living.”


Did you know that 92% of babies born to clients in the CARE for AIDS program are born HIV-negative? Learn more in our 2016 annual report. 

The Lord Needs It

I originally wrote this post in 2015, but each year as I experience Holy Week I find this scripture to be a great one to meditate upon. 


This past Sunday Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. The scripture we read at church was, of course, Matthew 21:1-11, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. This is one of the very famous accounts in scripture, and most people are at least minimally familiar with the story.

As many times as I have read this scripture, though, it always captures my imagination. Jesus, riding into the city gates before a crowd- a crow that would in a weeks time be throwing insults at him- but for now they are praising him as Hosannah and laying their coats at the feet of the foal that carried him. Its an amazing piece of scripture. Of course, the donkey is a key piece of the story. I remember as a kid learning that the donkey was a symbol of God’s gentleness and humility, and that it was a poignant depiction of the Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah. The aspect of the story that we too often gloss over, though, is the means by which the disciples got the donkey.

Jesus told the disciples, as we read in verse 2, to go into the city and essentially borrow the animal. And, if anyone were to ask them why they were taking the animal, they were to tell them that the Lord needs it.

Imagine the story without the donkey- the donkey was the signal to the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah. Anyone who had studied the Old Testament knew exactly what Jesus was saying when he rode into town on the animal, and without this important piece of the scene, the prophecy would not have been fulfilled in such a vibrant way. Without the faith of the owner of the donkey, and without his or her willingness to give up their possession when the Lord asked for it, people may not have recognized Jesus that day in Jerusalem for what he is- Hosannah in the Highest.

As we draw close to the end of Holy Week, my prayer is that we each take stock of the possessions we value and ask ourselves if we would be willing to give them up if and when the Lord asks us to. What is your “donkey”? What do you have in your possession that might help glorify God in the most unexpected way? 


I also invite you to join the CARE for AIDS team in prayer during this season. You can follow along with our six week Lenten prayer guide, which you can download here. 

Be Grateful

There is a common chorus we hear from Impact Trip participants when they get home from Kenya- and I am sure you can identify with the sentiment. The majority of people, when asked what they learned on their trip to Africa, will respond with some version of this: 

"The people there were so joyful... they had so little compared to what we have in the U.S., but they were so incredibly welcoming and full of gratitude.

As it turns out, Kenyans are on to something. Above all else, gratitude is the key to happiness. This morning, we want to share a TED talk from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who has dedicated most of his life to the pursuit of everyday gratitude. You can view his talk by clicking below: 

Lent is a season of reflection that offers us the opportunity  to slow down and notice God's presence in our daily lives. This week, I want to challenge you to take some extra time and space to reflect on how you can practice gratitude. Where is the Lord leading you? How can you see the work of the Spirit in your day? When we can create space to reflect like this on a regular basis, we can grow into a life characterized by gratitude. 


I also invite you to join the CARE for AIDS team in prayer during this season. You can follow along with our six week Lenten prayer guide, which you can download here. 

Life Restored

Mille is a 22-year-old single mother living in Kisumu. She is a medical student and is also a client at one of our centers in Kisumu, where Dan and Lillian are the center staff. She asked them to share her story.

“When I found out I was HIV-positive, I was devastated. I am sure that it was my boyfriend who infected me, and this means he had been unfaithful, so I took my son, and we left him. I was so hurt and filled with anger. I wanted to get revenge somehow, to feel that justice was being done. So, I started seeking out men to infect them. This gave me a sense of control and it felt like I was getting back at my boyfriend. I infected many men during this period - I think like seventeen. I am ashamed of that time, and in the end it did not help me. Actually, during that time I fell into depression and drug use. I was in so much darkness.

Eventually, I reached out to my sister for help. The timing could not have been better, and I know it was God who gave me that timing. I told my sister about my status, but nothing else. She was so compassionate, and to my surprise, she told me that she was also HIV-positive. My sister told me about a program she was enrolled in that could help me. I was not sure what the program was, but I knew I needed help - especially when thinking about my son…. I knew that I needed help so that I could be there for him. I waited to see what the program would bring. I had no idea the transformation that was coming.

Early on in my counseling sessions, I opened up about my story, about my anger and bitterness, and about the seventeen men that I had infected. Dan and Lillian were strict with me during my sessions and taught me about the risk of re-infection, and how continuing in risky behavior can increase the speed that the virus spreads and attacks the body. This was new information to me. They also counseled me on taking my medicine properly, and on good nutrition. I started feeling healthier, and could feel the depression going away. Actually, when I joined the program, my CD4 count was around 200. Now, it is above 500!

Dan and Lillian helped me find forgiveness - for myself, and for my boyfriend. Through forgiveness, I found redemption and was able to let go of my bitterness and anger. I’ve realized that I am not the only one dealing with this, and that others need help like me. So, at my university, I started a group called Students for Life. We are an HIV advocacy group, and I mobilize other students to get tested, to talk openly about their status, and through this group, we are able to support each other.

I thank Dan and Lillian, and CARE for AIDS, and I thank God for taking a chance on me, and helping me find a new life when I thought that mine had ended.”


I also invite you to join the CARE for AIDS team in prayer during this season. You can follow along with our six week Lenten prayer guide, which you can download here.