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 !
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.