Kisumu is hot. The humidity from Lake Victoria doesn’t help. When I finally sit down in the cafe, I’m covered in sweat. All I did was walk from the car inside to the table. I order an iced coffee praying that it is actual brewed coffee and that the ice is made with water that isn’t going to make me sick. Across from me, a radiant smile on her face, sits Evon. I had been told about Evon from the Kisumu regional coordinator, Geofrey Onyango. I knew that her story was one of transformation and hope, and I wanted to hear about it in her words. Evon orders a mango juice and we start talking.
Thanks for meeting with me.
Well, you work with CFA. Anything involving CFA? I’m there.
I’m happy to hear that. So, that must mean you had a positive experience in the program?
To say the least.
I’ve heard a little bit of your story, but I want to hear it from you. Tell me about who you were before you started the CFA program – actually let’s start before you knew your status.
I’ve always been a hard-working, enthusiastic person. I did well in school and worked in different NGOs and development organizations. I always took care of my health and was someone who friends and co-workers always liked and admired.
But that changed when you found out your status. Tell me about how you found out, and how you reacted.
I used to get tested regularly. I knew it was good to do and I always did it confidently. I knew about HIV and how to prevent it. I was always confident that I was negative based on how I live my life. You can imagine that I was shocked when I found out I was positive. I actually lost my mind. I went back to the office and went around telling everyone. I was calling everyone and texting them and just saying, “I’m HIV positive. I’m HIV positive. I’m HIV positive.” Nothing else. I think I went crazy.
What did you do after that?
I quit my job and left my boyfriend. I felt like my identity had changed. I also had this overwhelming feeling that I had wasted all my energy and efforts. After living my life well and working hard, now I’m HIV positive. What does it matter what I do now? Nothing matters. I started drinking a lot. Eventually I got into drugs. I was always looking to get high and looking for some guy to pay for me to get high. It was a really bad time.
How long was this period of your life?
Two years. Two really dark years.
How did you find out about CARE for AIDS?
Through my friend, Nicholas. He was a client in the phase before me. Actually Nicholas was the guy who first introduced me to my drug dealer. So, when he came and told me that there was a program where they were helping people like us, I was a little surprised.
Tell me a little more about Nicholas. How is he doing now?
Nicholas is great. He cleaned up and started a business. The CFA program really helped him. And he really helped me. Even before I got accepted into the CFA program, he encouraged me to move away from the part of town I was in. He gave me some work to do and encouraged me to quit drinking and to stop doing drugs. Throughout the program, he was someone I could talk to. He knew where I was coming from and could remind me that it was possible. He changed. He got clean. I could, too.
I’m so happy you have you have a friend like him. Ok, so tell me about your experience in the CFA program.
CFA has become my family. Timon (Spiritual Counselor) is like a father to me, and Beatrice (Health Counselor) is like my big sister. In the program I learned that my identity hadn’t changed. I was still me, and I could still live like I wanted to. I’ve always been artistic and entrepreneurial so I really enjoyed learning some of the skills and crafts in the program and, I’m using them now actually.
Which skills did you like the best? How are you using them?
I am making bead-covered bags and purses and I am also making rugs. I have a few businesses buying rugs from me and I am working on marketing myself with the bags. I really love what I’m doing. It feels great to be busy and working again.
You’ve graduated from CFA now. How are things going?
Well, a week before graduation, my boyfriend kicked me and my son out. I thought he would be happy for me to be making improvements and getting clean, but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, it’s for the best. Beatrice helped me find a room to rent for me and my son, and she even helped me get some new clothes, because I had to leave everything in the house. Beatrice is really like a sister to me. You know, she’s always calling me and checking up on me. Even Timon will do that.
So you have a son? What’s his name? How old is he?
His name is Thomas and he’s eight. I was able to enroll him in school because of my businesses and because of a loan that CFA helped me apply for. He’s doing so well. Actually, I was in the cafe a few weeks ago buying him a pizza to celebrate his grades. He’s the best in his class! He told me he always wants to get good grades so I will buy him pizza!
Good for him! Good move with the pizza. That’s good motivation for anything.
When we asked to meet, you said that we could meet after class. Are you in school now, too?
Yes. I am taking business and marketing classes with Catholic University. It’s helping me so much. CFA gave me skills and these classes are helping me with expertise. I’m even planning to train some of my neighbors and friends with the skills I learned.
That’s so great. I’m impressed. Any other benefits from the program?
Yes. You know, the health counseling was easy for me to take to. I was always good with health and I had a lot knowledge, so it helped me but It was kind of just reminders for me of what I already knew. The spiritual side, though… well, I was just really messed up. I struggled a lot with what Timon would talk to me about. But it started to make sense. I walked away with salvation and more than anything else in the program that has given me hope.
I’m happy for you. You know, a lot of people were praying for you. Even though they didn’t know they were praying for you specifically, they were. Now that they will know your story, they will keep praying for you and rooting for you.
I’m grateful for it. There are a lot more like me who need prayer and help. You guys are really doing a good work. In all the eighty clients, if there is just one like me, it’s worth keeping the program going. You’re helping a lot of people.
Thanks for that encouragement. You know, in the end, all we have is a program. You are where you are now because of the effort you put in and the fact that you let people into your life. Congratulations and keep it up! Thanks for meeting with me and being willing to share you story.
Thank you so much. I’m happy to share my story with you. CFA is my family now! So of course I have to share.
Evon is twenty-six years old and lives in Kisumu with her son, Thomas. She thanks you for your prayers and asks you to keep praying for others like her to learn that they can live positively and can find hope in Jesus Christ.