Until World AIDS Day on December 1, New Vision will publish HIV-related stories daily. Today, Caroline Abira brings you Barbara Kemigisa, whose traumatic experience of being defiled by her uncles led her to become promiscuous, get pregnant and contract HIV. She now uses her life story to empower the youth.
I am HIV-positive!" 26-year old Barbara Kemigisa tells whoever cares to listen. Kemigisa lived with her mother from birth, but when she was three years old; her father took her to live with her paternal grandmother in Fort Portal.
"My grandmother loved me a lot," she recalls.
When Kemigisa was five years old, her uncle who was in his early 20s, started defiling her. "He made me lie on a bench in one of the empty houses and defiled me," she recalls.
Kemigisa's uncle gave her money to buy sweets and ordered her not to tell anyone about the ordeal. He defiled her over and over again and kept giving her sweets and money to cover up his misdeeds.
A year later, another uncle started defiling Kemigisa.
Both men were defiling her at the same time, although they did not know it. In a strange twist, after being repeatedly defiled, Kemigisa became promiscuous. "Either I had started liking sex a lot or just didn't care," she says.
By her 11th birthday, Kemigisa had many boyfriends.
She joined St. Joseph's Nsambya in Kampala for her secondary education, but was expelled shortly after for being rebellious.
Kemigisa was then taken to Kibito Secondary School in Appendicitis: Why you should not ignore that sharp pain in the abdomen Fort Portal, where she slept with a countless number of boys and was called the school's slut.
In A'level, she joined Mbogo Mixed School, where she set out to change her life.
She became a born-again Christian, a decision that displeased her father so much that he disowned her.
"I slept in downtown Kampala on the verandas of the Mini-Price building," she recalls. "One day, a stranger was touched by my story and he took me to his sister, who later took me back home." Kemigisa's father reluctantly enrolled her for a course in fashion at Tiner School of
Beauty, but could barely afford the materials needed for her course, which stressed her so much that she fell ill. When she recovered, she set out to look for love. "I got involved intimately with a man and two months later, I was pregnant," she says.
Shortly after that, Kemigisa discovered that her boyfriend had another girlfriend and they had a baby. Once again she got depressed, fell ill and her aunt advised her to take an HIV test.
"I was HIV-positive, two months pregnant and with no boyfriend," her voice breaks. Kemigisa's boyfriend was HIV-negative, which implied that she had got infected at the peak of her sexual addiction.
Kemigisa left home, contacted some maternal relatives who took her in.
"For once I felt loved," she recalls. "On the day I gave birth, my baby's father gave me sh70, 000 and has never supported us since then," she says.
"Kourtney was born HIVnegative, but I couldn't afford formula."
In a shaky voice, she explains: "I tried everything, even putting her up for adoption, but all failed and I was forced to breastfeed her."
When her daughter was six months old, tests showed that she too was HIV-positive.
"No pain, not even on the day I learnt my own status comes close this," she says as her eyes water. "I didn't protect her!"
When Kemigisa broke the news about hers and her daughter's HIV status to her parents, her father's response was "Who told you I am your father?" Fortunately, her mother was supportive and they have since grown close.
To provide for her child, Kemigisa started making jewellery, which doesn't bring in much, but puts food on her table.
"Today, my princess and I support each other," she says of her four-year-old who is still on septrin. "She wakes me up to give her medicine and asks if I have taken mine."
However, with a world that is full of stigma, what will happen to her little girl?
"I teach her to be strong, smile, but above all, love herself," Kemigisa says.
Today you will fi nd Kemigisa talking to the youth at gatherings. But what saddens her most is seeing the youth leading reckless lives and discriminating against their peers who are HIV-positive.
Kemigisa believes that all teenage rebellions are as a result of pain and she advises them to "talk to someone".
"If only I had talked to my grandmother...," she adds.