I cannot describe how excited I was for each group session. I would wake up very early if I had to, or walk if there was no transport–just to attend. I felt this support group was invaluable for me and I want other young people living with or affected by HIV to have access to similar services as well. Connecting with other HIV-positive people builds confidence and strength.
Together with my friends, we created the Youth Caffe, a youth-centred organization that caters to the urgent and unmet needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged youth living in Kenya. Our target group is youth aged 14 to 25, and our programmes focus on sexual and reproductive health education, information technology and multimedia skills and entrepreneurship. I realized that if I am doing well health-wise, the community accepts me, I have a job and a stable relationship, it gives other girls and women living with HIV hope.
There is more we can do to make girls less vulnerable to HIV. We need mentorship and good programmes that speak about female sexuality to reduce risk-taking behaviours. We need to raise awareness, and have proper follow-ups. We need engaging activities and micro-enterprise programmes for women. After some time, I felt that someone other than us needed to hear our challenges and bring the changes we desired. I saw that women were rarely included in policy-making with regards to HIV, something that I strongly feel we can change. I wanted to tell judges, magistrates, schools, hospitals, parents and guardians how we felt, so I started to speak out.
I am now working for ICWEA which exists to give visibility to women living with HIV in Eastern Africa who face gender inequalities and lack access to sexual and reproductive health services for women, which are at the heart of the HIV epidemic. I joined ICWEA because I want to see a change in social attitudes and an increase in the public availability of the latest information on HIV, including research.
I believe that women and girls must not be raised to be scared to engage in sexual relations or to consider it a bad thing. If I had a daughter today, I would tell her that she should always practise safe sex by using protection and being monogamous. But most importantly, I would talk to her at an early age (12-14) about her sexuality and make her feel safe talking about it with me. Being a friend and creating a good atmosphere where she can express her feelings without fear or intimidation would be key.