11 April 2014

South Sudan: Samuel's Story - Hope After Being Raped and Contracting HIV

Samuel John, 19, from Yambio, South Sudan, contracted HIV after he was raped by an older woman who sold him alcohol.

"Every evening my father used to send me to buy alcohol for him from a lady. She always cracked funny jokes," Samuel said. "One day my father sent me a bit late, around 9pm. When I got there she told me to go to her room and she followed me. She asked me to sleep with her. I refused but she forced me and promised to hurt or kill me. Because she was older and had more power, she got hold of my genitals and did what she wanted, telling me not to tell anyone.

"I went home feeling bad. I didn't inform my dad although he asked why I had taken so long. I didn't answer because she had threatened to kill me. After about four months she passed away and soon after I started to fall sick. I was taken to the hospital in Nzara county where I was tested for HIV and the result was negative.

"However the sickness was persistent and so one of my friends advised me to go to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Yambio to test for the disease again. This time I was found to be HIV positive and I had no option but to tell my parents. Lots of bad words were thrown at me and the whole family hated me."

The family's response to Samuel's rape

Samuel, who is one of 12 children, told his mother Christine about the rape three months after the incident. It shocked the whole family because they knew the woman was living with HIV and they wondered how she could do that to anyone.

Christine said: "We were disappointed but when Samuel's father threatened to disown our son I felt so bad I tried all I could do within my reach to make him understand that this wasn't the end of the road for our son."

Because of the lack of support from his father, Samuel did not attend education for one year and couldn't get basic things he needed like the rest of his family members. But after several appeals from Samuel's mother and other family friends finally his father accepted to take care of him.

Supporting young people living with HIV

Phoebe Josephate, Yambio county inspector of gender and social welfare, said cases like Samuel's are common in Western Equatoria State.

Although Samuel's case did not reach them in time, Josephate said they could have taken the case before the directorate of children at the state ministry before the woman died.

Josephate called upon parents to avoid sending their children for errands at night as it is not safe. "If such cases of rape happen you should at least tell the authorities concerned such that the law can take its full course," she added.

According to YMCA director Justin Omar Kirima, the YMCA in Yambio now has more than 30 young people living with HIV registered with them, both boys and girls, who are responding well to counselling and support.

He gave the example of a young girl who went to the YMCA for an HIV test and, when she found out she was positive, went home to her father who took her to the police.

A friend of the girl alerted the YMCA who went to the police station where she was in custody for being HIV positive. After lengthy discussions between her father and the elders, he accepted her back at home, although he remained reluctant to continue providing for her.

"We need more young people to join the club in order to freely discuss issues concerning their lives and to find solutions to the stigma and discrimination that exist in the community," said Kirima.

Samuel's advice

Samuel now attends the club for young people living with HIV at the YMCA. They are supported with some small things like soap and sugar every Friday. This is to encourage them with the activities around the YMCA, where they can get support and to help them feel that they have a place in society.

Samuel is now in the second year of secondary school despite skipping studies for one year due to the stigma he experienced. His dream is to go to university and study business administration, he said: "I know my dreams can come into reality if only some well-wisher one day will help me pursue my studies.

"I have to give my sincere thanks to the YMCA for what they have done for me in life after I discovered that I was positive. Because of their counselling I want to assure everybody that HIV is not what they are thinking.

"My advice to my friends and to all those reading this is to continue to protect yourselves. People living with HIV should not remain shy but rather should go and seek treatment because this disease can kill if you don't get treatment and follow the doctors' advice."

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