I had written about Josephine in an earlier bl0g. Her and I travelled 7 hours from Dokollo to Kampala. It was not until I got back to Geneva, that she shared the intensity of her journey with me. She has given me permission to share. How do I convince this young girl to take HIV medicine? I have been thinking about this for the last 2 weeks, when she sent me this story.
My Personal story.
Being a communications officer for Uganda now with East Africa Quality for Early Learning (EAQEL) a project under Aga Khan Foundation, I am very grateful to God for the love he has for me. I am a ninth born from a family of ten, and now we remained only three, Immy, Chan and I, since all my other seven sibling passed away during the war that brought president Museveni into power.
I am born to late Namuli Teopista and late Katho Anthony who were both Catholics. My father Anthony died in 1995 and my mother Teopista died in 1999, they died of HIV/AIDS and it was such a painful death because by then treatment was only for the rich. I was 12 years when my mother died and my brother Chan was 7 years.
The year 1999 marked the beginning of my suffering. Because my sister was born of a different father who also passed away in 1993, her relatives came and took her away from us and left me, together with my brother, with a lady who claimed to be a sister to our late father, Auntie Noeline, when he was still alive. Moreover, when my mother died, she turned her back on us and claimed she was not our true relative and sent us away. It was such a perturbing moment, yet I was left with only one week to sit for my Primary Leaving Exams (PLE). However, God is good because our headmaster by then, Sheik Ibrahim, allowed me to go to the boarding section and sleep in the girls dormitory, together with my brother, until I finished my exams. Besides, Children of Uganda Organization (COU) had selected me to be on their sponsorship programme since they had seen some potential in me, although my mother could not raise my school fees on time because her source of income was selling alcohol on a small scale which we supplemented by selling firewood.
My late father was a soldier but with little influence, given his low level of educational, but he had a brother who used to stay in Bombo. Though his family didn’t turn up for my mother’s burial, I tried my level best to follow him up and when we reached his place, we had the worst welcome ever. He was a good person; his wife was not. At first she refused to let us to stay with them, though when she was convinced she took us in but we worked like donkeys, slaves, to earn our living there. I used to wake up 5:00 am and go to sleep at midnight, and all that time I was doing housework. As if the work alone was not punishment enough, it was accompanied by beating and insults, so within two years I decide to start looking for my sister because I had heard a rumor that she was married and living in the trading centre nearby.
When I found my sister Immy in July 2003, I asked if she could take us in, but by then she had so much on her plate that she could only care for her children and her husband at that moment. She sent us away from her house, claiming that we were rebels who were going to break up her marriage because the husband did not want us to overload his feeding budget. So we had no choice but go to the street. I am so grateful to God that even when I reached the state of sleeping at Arua Park street with my brother, I never despaired. I stood firm and studied hard since God had provided to me sponsorship through Children of Uganda organization. I worked hard, peeling food in hotels, washing clothes for students at school, cleaning people’s compounds and many other tasks in order to raise some money to keep my brother in school as well. But at some point, the load became too heavy for me.
When I got a chance to pick my bank slip at COU, I told Auntie Ritah, the sponsorship coordinator by then, that Chan and I were sleeping atArua Pack Street. In addition, I asked her to consider us for a place in the orphanage, although it was clear that only those without known guardians could have that privilege. It took long for her to say yes, but it happened when she presented the matter to Auntie Alexis Hefley, who was the director then. I was granted accommodation, but because they helped only one-person from a family, I had to give my brother to friends to keep. I will always remember Aisha, Joan and Mohamed doing me this great favor.
I always asked God for three things in life: one, not to die of the same sickness as my parents. Two, to study hard and get a degree. Three, to get a chance to go abroad for greener pastures. In my family nobody had ever studied to complete even senior six (advanced level) and I had zeal to change that history. I know the devil tends to steal, kill and destroy people’s visions and to me being diagnosed with HIV in my second year at the university was a big blow, but I believe God has a greater plan in all that has happened to me than I can ever imagine. Although I am not where I need to be, thank God I am not where I used to be, I am happily pressing on and I am on my way.
When I was at the orphanage in my Senior.6 vacation, I had no personal sponsor and in our orphanage, if you didn’t have a personal sponsor, you could not be taken to the university; they would rather take one to a vocational institution, which was not my dream. So Uncle Joseph, the programme officer by then, used his power to abuse my rights by forcing me to sleep with him, if I wanted a sponsor to go to university. Although it was a difficult decision to take, I took it basing on how I felt and viewed my life as well as my brother’s. And after some time we received visitors at the orphanage, and he helped me get connected to one of them, Auntie Donna. Luckily enough I received the sponsorship. But it was not all that easy because the money could only meet the tuition and hostel fees, I had to look for some money for all my requirements and also pay for my brother’s school fees.I think I would have been dead by now because of the bitterness and anger I harbored towards people who really hurt me badly, like uncle Joseph who infected me with HIV, my sister Immy who deliberately left us when we needed her most, my uncle’s wife who treated me as a slave, and Auntie Noeline who did not consider our pain on becoming orphans at such a tender age, and decided to break our hearts the more by sending us away. But I thank God that, His grace has always kept me filled with tolerance, patience, perseverance and forgiveness. I know that if He has always forgiven me, it is my obligation to forgive others too.
I went through a great deal of rejection, pain and disappointments that I sold my heart, my pride and feelings yet I undertook work of any kind as long as it could contribute to my brother’s school fees and my well-being. I did students’ course work, brushed their shoes, and went to canteen to buy them food, but this continued to strengthen me to be close to my brother and fight hard to get a degree and find a job. That is why even today, I consider him my mother, my father, my friend and my counselor.
God never fails and He is always merciful, it reached at time when my brother joined secondary school, the money that I always fetched could no longer be enough for his school fees for even one term, so I at some point failed him. He had to sit out for a year, but lecturer Deogratious at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) where I studied, stepped in and promised to contribute half of his school fees.
When I failed to meet my obligations to pay his school fees, I still had to contribute to his stay wherever I took him by buying him necessities, so it became very hard, but God opened a way for him in Empower African Children through Music Dance and Drama, with strong recommendations from Mum Donna, my sponsor, and since 2009 this organization has taken on my brother. He is now in Senior five at Taibah College.
When God says yes, no one can say no. When I went back for my long holiday in first year as a volunteer at the orphanage, though this time I was at the Rakai home, Uncle Joseph proved that he not only wanted me when I was so desperate, but he intended to make me his sex machine throughout. That is why I refused to go back to the orphanage for holidays because he was so influential that my voice could not really be heard even if I wanted to report him. And when he noticed the change in me, he tried to jeopardize my relationship with my sponsor and though it worked somehow, Mum Donna kept her promise and paid my tuition until I completed my stay in UMU. He resigned and left the orphanage, but I remained sick. Mum Donna still helps me indirectly because she is one of the big funders of the organization where my brother is helped, but she made it clear that I need to use the education she gave me to stand on my feet alone. But still God brought the late Father Geoffrey of Nebbi Catholic diocese in line although he died in May 2010, when I was still trying to learn how to stand firm.
I tried to study hard at UMU, but at times my spirits sank, because God had raised my hopes though my sight was still short. I didn’t know whom to talk to or where to run to, but I gathered strengthen and faced, professor Burrell, and he has done a lot for me. The day he introduced me to World Vision was my turning point. Although I didn’t have official clothes to wear in the office to look presentable, the little I had was enough, I did my best and that is where I got introduced to Nebbi District Local Government, the electoral commission, Pathfinder. I began as a Young Development Professional (YDP) and my placement was Madrasa Resource Centre Uganda.
“Patience, perseverance and trust in God has carried me through!”