The New Times (Kigali)

2 December 2012

Rwanda: She Lost Her Husband, Tested HIV Positive and Hid From the World

Juditha Mukabalisa, 52, discovered that she was infected with HIV/AIDS in 2005. Her husband had died in 2002, leaving her to look after their 3 children.

After suffering from various illnesses following her husband's death, Mukabalisa decided to go for an HIV test. However, she never expected the worst because her husband had not died of HIV/AIDS - he was clobbered to death by burglars.

Alas! Doctors gave her the bad news: she was HIV positive. And life moved from worse to worst when she later found out that one of her children - who was born in 2000 - was also infected with the deadly disease. Mukabalisa told her story of trials, tribulations and triumphs to Sunday Times' Maria Kaitesi:

When I found out that I was infected with HIV, a few years after my husband's death, my world came crumbling down on me. I lost hope and thought I wouldn't face the future.

All I could do was to hide myself and cry. For two weeks, I was in shock and felt very desolate.

I didn't have a job yet I had three children to look after. And there was rent to pay. I felt very hopeless and honestly didn't know what to do. I hated seeing my children suffering and going hungry.

Where would their school fees come from? Who would find them food when I was sick? Who would take care of them when I died? These are the questions that ran in my mind and kept me worried day and night.

My dream was to see my children grow up and have an education despite my HIV status and poverty.

At first I was even afraid of seeking medication. I was afraid that society would laugh at me, gossip about me and think that I was probably a prostitute. It was extremely hard but I didn't want my children to see my pain as they would hurt, too, and lose hope.

I became brave and went to hospital to start receiving anti-retroviral treatment (ART). I took one of my children who was also infected.

My children needed to eat, go to school and have shelter. I didn't have a job, neither did I have a decent education background.

One day, while scouring the city for a job, I heard about the Ubuzima Project under Eglise Vivante De Jesus Christ church, Kimihurura.

Ubuzima is an organisation of women living with HIV who make bags, clothes, aprons and necklaces among other things using paper beads and African fabric.

I then approached Consolate Deborah Djamilahj, the volunteer manager of the project. She warmly welcomed and accepted me to join the project even though I had nothing but a sick heart and body.

She took me in and I acquired the skills that have helped me earn some income and fend for my family.

I mostly make necklaces through paper beads and other things like bags using African fabric.

When I started working with Ubuzima Project, I stopped feeling sad and sorry for myself. I am no longer so worried and living in misery because I've been taught to work with my hands. I don't beg anyone for money because I am HIV positive and can't work.

I don't look down on myself for I know I can do anything successfully without my HIV status being a stumbling block.

I am on medication and I know that I can live for as long as God wishes. My three children are all in school though it's been tough educating them.

The youngest is in Primary Six, one in Senior Three and the oldest has completed Senior Six. I no longer sit home and worry about where my next meal will come from because I am now working.

Sometimes we make no money at all but we never lose hope. Somehow, we survive. In a good month I make at least Rwf20,000. But in a bad month I make nothing at all. Sometimes we go without food and the children miss school but at least I don't just sit home and look at them.

Our biggest challenge at Ubuzima Project is the fact that we lack market for our products. We therefore call upon sponsors and the public to partner with us.

All HIV infected women shouldn't lose hope. They, too, have the potential like other people. They should work and live positively.

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