9 January 2013

Uganda: HIV Turned Teacher's Fortunes, Opened More Prospects

As a young man a few years ago, Godfrey Omoita felt all was going well since he had a job and a wife. But fate had other plans for Omoita, a teacher at Otipe Primary School in Kumi district.

He discovered that his ex-girlfriend was HIV-positive and was steadily succumbing to AIDS. He quickly did an HIV test and the results came back positive.

Breaking the news to his wife was harder than eating stones. It took a lot of courage, but Omoita eventually told his wife he was HIV-positive. She rushed to take a test and was HIV-negative.

Omoita's wife had misgivings about living with an HIV-positive partner. She contemplated deserting her husband.

So depressed was Omoita by his HIV status and his wife's reaction that his performance at work declined and he sunk into a pit of depression. While wallowing in self-pity, like a thunderbolt, it hit Omoita that he was only worsening matters.

At that point, he picked himself up, shook off the depression and chose to live positively with HIV. He also resolved to save fellow teachers from contracting HIV and encourage those who had the virus to live positively.

It is now 10 years since Omoita found out he was HIV-positive. During this time he has stuck to his resolutions and today he is the chairman of Kumi Teacher's AIDS Action Group (KUTAG). The organisation unites teachers in the district who are living positively with AIDS.

"We encourage our members to take their medication, engage in income-generating activities and love their jobs," he says.

Helen Akwii, a member of KUTAG, is all praises for Omoita. "While others remain silent about the disease or infect others, Omoita is using his HIV status to help others."

Akwii makes both school uniforms and other clothes, which the group sells to raise money for their activities and to enable the teachers earn an extra income.

Omoita also visits HIV-positive teachers in the group whenever they are bed-ridden. Steven Osaku, a teacher at Kelim Primary School in Kumi district, says Omoita is passionate about helping HIV-positive teachers. "This organisation is life saver for many people." Osaku adds.

The organisation also encourages teachers to support HIV-positive pupils. "Sometimes these pupils can spend a whole day without food, yet they are taking strong medication," Omoita explains. "We always step in to help such pupils."

Steven Ibabala, an HIV-positive teacher, who is also a member of the organisation, describes Omoita as a dedicated member. "When he discovers there is an HIV-positive teacher in a distant school, he encourages us to go and comfort him," Ibabala explains.

Asked about his key to success, Omoita points at his wife. "I knew that if I was going to win this battle, I needed my wife to be on my team. She stayed and has kept me strong," he explains.

Omoita also took a sh5m loan, which he used to buy land and start farming. He always has enough food despite his meagre salary.

Born in 1969, in Olungya village, Kumi district, Omoita went to Kumi Boys Primary School and Wiggins Senior Secondary School in the same district for his O' level education.

He later enrolled at St. Aloysius Primary Teachers' College in Ngora and graduated as a teacher in 1994.

His teaching journey began at Kumi Girls' School until 2000 when he was transferred to Otipe Primary School.

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