Boma La Tumaini-The House of Hope

29 Nov

In 1985, the first instance of HIV was reported in Kenya. By the year 2009, 6.3% of Kenya’s population was living with HIV/AIDS. Of those affected, 760,000 of them are women over the age of 15. With quiet and sometimes ashamed voices, most women keep the story of their disease to themselves. I was lucky enough to spend time with three women and listen to the struggles and triumphs of their HIV positive lives.  I am going to be their voice; I’m going to let the world know their stories.

Sarah

            Sarah was diagnosed with HIV in 1996. She found out when her husband got sick and was emitted into the local hospital. After diagnosis, both she and her spouse lost the will to live; they thought HIV was an automatic death sentence. They sold all of there things, moved to a farm plot in Loitoktok, Kenya and they waited to die.  To their surprised, death did not come.  After becoming more educated on her sickness and with access to treatment, Sarah realized that she had something to live for: her two, uninfected, children. She is thankful every day that her boys were not infected during her pregnancy.

Ann

Like most women in Kenya, in the beginning Ann did not know that she had contracted HIV and it was causing her ill-health. Her weight dropped to 67 lbs and she lay in a hospital bed for 3 months. She didn’t know then that she had HIV. She was discharged but then readmitted again for the same symptoms. Ann’s viral HIV blood count was 22, 000.

Her misfortune did not stop there. When her family found out she was HIV positive, they sectioned off a room of their home for her to stay in. They left food by the door. “They treated me like I was a stray animal; didn’t care if I ate or not.”  She knew the atmosphere wasn’t good for her health anymore. With a combination of antiretroviral drugs, a better living environment and nutrition, her count has been brought down to 22.

Monica

Monica is a Maasai momma, who is one of the many wives of her husband. She was diagnosed with both Tuberculosis and HIV, diseases that often accompany one another in Africa, seven years ago. The other women in her boma are also HIV positive. She is the mother of two children, one being mentally handicapped. With proper treatment, Monica says she is as healthy as she’s ever been.

All seemed to be going well until her disabled son starting showing the same symptoms she had in previous years. Upon testing, she found out that her son also was HIV positive, although he was newly infected because neither he nor his sibling had the disease at birth. With the impossibility of the infected son being sexually active, Monica had to look for another reason. The answer came in the form of her cultural practices. Maasai peoples buzz their hair very short. Monica made the mistake of using the blade she used for her own head on that of her son, thus allowing the disease to spread.

These women all have one thing in common: Boma La Tumaini. The boma was established in 2004, as a resource to the community to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in the Loitoktok region of southern Kenya. With a hospital that offers low-cost and free antiretroviral medications to HIV positive patients near the compound, the Boma is a key to the survival of those living with the disease. The compound has several buildings, which houses families of those infected and provides a constant food source to the community. Counselors at the boma offer a support group and are active in the surrounding areas in hope to promote and reinforce HIV/AIDS awareness. Also, there is an on-site testing facility, which is free to anyone concerned with his or her status. Both male and female contraceptives are available upon request and family planning seminars are given.

I visited this boma two days ago and it has been weighing on my heart and mind ever since. I knew that HIV/AIDS was an epidemic but it was so easy to brush off when I wasn’t directly affected. These women shared their lives with me and I feel like I owe them something. I’m starting out with voicing their stories; showing their strength, perseverance and their determination to not let their disease rule the rest of their lives.  By sharing their stories, I hope that I can elicit the support they need from the rest of the world. People are dying, infection is rampant and the outlook may be dim but if everyone acknowledges the existence of the disease and works towards its elimination, we could see an HIV free planet.

More information for the Boma La Tumaini can be found at: http://medicalmissionsisters-uk.org/Loitokitok.html

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