20 May 2012

Uganda: Acwero Is Kaberamaido's Voice for HIV/Aids Affected Pupils

Deep in the village of Olio, Alwa sub-county in Kaberemaido district, there is someone who is more popular than the area politicians.

Residents may not be able to tell the name of their local councillor in the village of Olio, Alwa sub-county in Kaberemaido district, but they know Frances Acwero.

Acwero, 47, is a primary two teacher at Gwetom Primary School and her popularity stems from her advocacy for children and teachers living with HIV/AIDs in Kaberemaido district. She has been in the teaching profession for over 19 years.

Acwero is also the founder and chairperson of Kaberamaido Teachers and AIDS Action Group (KTAAG), an association of teachers living with HIV/AIDS.

"Many pupils who were HIVinfected could not stay long at school because schools didn't know how to deal with such children," Acwero recalls. She notes that through KTAAG, which has 150-member teachers, it has become easy for them to handle pupils living with HIV/AIDS in the district.

"It is now easy to monitor these pupils because most of the teachers know what to do now."

Acwero adds that the teachers routinely remind HIV-infected pupils to take their ARVS and also ensure they are not subjected to excessive work at school.

"In the past, the HIV-infected children and those who were not infected were treated the same way but things have changed now. The HIV infected children are accorded special attention," Acwero says.

In her school, Acwero takes care of three HIV-infected children and tends to them whenever they fall sick or when they are about to go to the hospital.

She goes an extra mile to visit some of the HIV-infected pupils in their homes and advises their relatives on how to care for them.

"I have HIV-infected orphans living with relatives of their parents, but some are living in appalling conditions," Acwero said.

In the district, she has registered 20 pupils that are being assisted by the teachers in their respective schools.

"The challenge is there are schools where I have no representative who would help me in identifying these pupils but I am slowly advancing to cover every school in the district," Acwero said.

Through saving, KTAAG members have managed to buy chairs, which they hire out for revenue.

"Our vision is to ensure that we shall be able to raise money to help members in case of sickness and death," Acwero said. She is happy that the stigmatisation among HIVinfected teachers and pupils has reduced.

"We faced it rough as teachers because we were discriminated by fellow teachers, who were not sick.

At one point, some almost resigned because they felt ashamed," Acwero recalls.

Acwero has to balance a tight schedule between teaching and lobbying for pupils and teachers living with HIV/ AIDS. In class, her nickname is Madam fire.

"They nicknamed me fire because I cane pupils who misbehave in class or those who make noise," says Acwero who seems happy with her name.

Her supervisors are happy with her work and are proud of her for championing the fight against stigma among teachers living with HIV/AIDS.

"We know her as a counselor and a teacher because she counsels both teachers and pupils living with the HIV/ AIDS," says Michael Abongi, the deputy head teacher.

Amid all the praises, Acwero is faced with a daunting task of making most of the pupils on ARVS understand they are taking tablets daily because they are infected.

"One pupil keeps asking me why she has to take tablets daily yet they do not feel sick. I have not yet told her of her status because she is still young," Acwero says.

"But I have managed to convince her to continue taking the medicine since she can see that I also take mine daily," Acwero adds.

Though the future of these children is promising, Acwero's greatest challenge is to find an organisation that can offer help to the HIV-infected pupils.

"I spend sleepless nights thinking of these pupils' future. I pray that a non-governmental organisation could help out.

I have no money to do all the things for them," she says.

Acwero is the last in a family of seven. She went to Lwala Girl's Primary School and thereafter, moved to St. Catherine Secondary School for her O' level. She then got married and was blessed with two children. She would have remained a housewife had the rebels not ended her husband's life.

Her turning point came when Elenyu's aunt enrolled her at Fatima Aloi Teachers College in 1991 in Aleptong.

When she graduated, she was posted to Amolatar Primary School.

Thereafter, in 1996, she was sent to Lira Modern Primary School and from there, got posted to Alia Olech Primary School in Lira.

She then moved to Mukono and taught in various schools before returning to Kaberamaido in 2008. She is praised for her role as a voice for children living with HIV/ AIDS.

"She is a wonderful teacher who has brought to light complaints of teachers infected with HIV, whom we have helped," says Alibina Opio, the resident district commissioner.

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