The depths of poverty: Irene's Rwandan journey (2/2)
To read the first part of Irène’s Rwandan journey, from poverty to entrepreneurship and back, click here.
Poverty, my children’s future… I couldn’t see how to get out of it and couldn’t sleep. I was losing weight at a frightening speed. In 2002, my children were expelled from school because school fees hadn’t been paid. What could I do? Sit back and leave them at home? Ask for help from people, even though my good friends were not even looking at me anymore? Maybe the churches could help me. But which one, with all the sins I’ve committed? Or humanitarian NGOs perhaps?
But which one? The next day, my daughter suggested that I go to the FXB Association, because she knew friends in their care. Perfect, I thought to myself! Even if the organization does nothing for me because I am not its direct beneficiary, Damascene will do something.
I’ve known him for a long time, even though I have never spoken to him openly about my problems. He referred me to the person in charge of the project who discussed my case with the other social workers. They gave me money for school fees and materials, and my children went back to school. I was satisfied. But they asked me to come back for something else, and we made an appointment. I had already developed a skin infection and the nurses had noticed it. They had probably guessed the cause.
At the appointment, the nurses took me alone and we discussed my life. One question was fatal: Irene, do you know anything about AIDS or your HIV status? A reminder of my past…
My past behavior had exposed me to this disease. “If I don’t have it, it doesn’t exist,” I replied. “Can you at least get tested to find out how to behave?” they asked. “There is prophylaxis, antiretrovirals that you can take to get better, AIDS is no longer a problem in this area”. The tireless counselors persuaded me to go to Kabgayi for a test. But I didn’t want to know the result. I thought I was HIV-positive but didn’t want a doctor to confirm it. But there was no way out. I had to do it.
The next day, I focused all my efforts on getting up early. At 7 a.m., I was with the agent who took a blood sample. After an hour, the sister in charge called me and asked: “Madam, how will you react if your result is positive?”. “Normally, my sister. I was prepared for this by the FXB team before I came here”. “Well my poor girl, you’re HIV positive, be careful not to infect people or infect yourself further,” she told me. When I heard the results, I was upset, but not for too long. After all, that’s what I had thought, the opposite would have been a miracle.
In any case, I had to tell my mother the bad news, and I did. Even if our relationship wasn’t good, she had a right to know my status. It seemed she was just waiting for that announcement to reject me entirely. Since that day, we haven’t shared a single meal. I live alone with my children, she won’t even look at us.
She told people that she was afraid I will infect her with AIDS. My brother is ready to kill me. A single blow would be enough to send me to the other world, I can already barely stand on one leg, another one having been tied up by AIDS, he likes to say! Imagine my family abandoning me and how painful it is for me to live apart from them. Does being HIV-positive mean losing all human dignity?
I went back to FXB to see the counselors to talk to them about all these problems. They took me to Kabgayi for further tests and I started prophylactic treatment. During their home visits, they talked privately with my mother and I saw that her behavior towards me was gradually changing. For about six months now, I am no longer stigmatized, even in the community.
The FXB Association has made me realize that I am not lost for good and that I am still useful to my children. I am slowly regaining strength and I plan to get involved in a small business with the help of benefactors.
I’m already a member of an association of people living with AIDS in Gitarama. Along with my sisters, I think I can be of service to my peers infected or affected by AIDS. I was afraid of being officially recognized as HIV-positive. I was obviously wrong, because everyone could already see it, even if they didn’t dare to tell me. I know a lot of people like me and my task is to convince them to come forward. I have AIDS, yes, but it hasn’t been a burden since I accepted it. The FXB Association hasn’t fought for nothing, and I will forever be grateful to them for that.