HIV Made Me Somebody
Her name is Odinga Louie, she is 25 years old and HIV positive. Almost paradoxically, Odinga declares that the three years since she tested positive have been the best years of her life.
“I would say, HIV made me somebody in a positive way.”
Three years ago, Odinga’s life was on a downward spiral.
“I lived in 13 different villages in 20 different homes because my boyfriend never paid his rent. We would get thrown out and have to be bunking from friend to family to try to stay alive… I have slept on cardboard and board.”
Odinga found out her status while nine months pregnant with her second child. She says that she was not surprised that she tested positive because she had suspected that the father of her two children was not being faithful to her.
Since her positive test, Odinga says her life has taken a turn for the better. She ended the relationship with her children’s father and now lives with her grandmother. On June 12, 2005, at a march and rally in Layou, she took the plunge and announced to the gathering that she is HIV positive.
Today Louie has no regrets for making the decision to go forward and become the face of HIV in our community. She has the support of most of her extended family and the community of Petit Bordel, and the once unemployed young mother is now employed with the National AIDS Secretariat as a Community Advocate/Educator and a peer counselor.
Despite admitting that it hasn’t all been easy since going public, Odinga encourages other HIV positive persons to share their status with others, as in her opinion, hiding is not worth it.
“It is a burden,” she declares. “The more you keep hiding from yourself or denying your HIV status, you are killing yourself even faster than you should. Life is there, enjoy it while it lasts.”
Declaring that she is now a better person than she used to be, Odinga now looks at life differently, and finds time for the simple pleasures in life like smelling flowers along the way. She spends more time with her family, and has stopped drinking and smoking.
With conviction in her voice, Odinga urges HIV positive mothers to try to see what they could do for their children while they are still alive, and to leave happy memories for them. She is saddened by the death of her daughter who only lived for four months, but is comforted that so far, her son, who is almost four years old has tested negative.
Laughing wistfully, Odinga admits that she has lost a lot of friends since going public, but gained many more.
“You know your true friends when you are in difficult situations, who I have now are my true friends. Those who I have lost were only pretending to be my friends. I thank God for those I have now who are supporting me.”
Louie is chair of CARE St Vincent, (Committee to Assist by Reaching out to Empower St Vincent and the Grenadines), a group of people living with HIV/AIDS. She says the members of the group support each other.
“We not only care for infected persons we care for the affected.”
She admits that most of the other members of her group have not yet gone public because of the stigma and discrimination existing in society. They are also afraid to access the services provided because they are afraid that confidentiality will not be maintained. However she assures that it is better to know your status than not to know. She said that while most of the members of her group have not gone public, they have revealed their status to their relatives and close friends, most of whom are being supportive.
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Odinga was one of the stakeholders gathered at the Ministry of Health in a workshop to develop a National Communication Strategy and Implementation Plan on HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination.