World AIDS Day Tribute1 December 2012
On World AIDS Day – December 1, 2012 – we pay tribute to m2m’s Mentor Mothers who have overcome enormous challenges to provide health and hope to hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers every year. Mentor Mentors like Jackline Odongo in Kenya…
“When I got home, I told my husband I was tested and I was HIV-positive… My husband started shouting at me. While I was still in shock he beat me up, insulted me and called me all sorts of names… My clothes were thrown outside the gates and I was forced to leave.”
Fortunately, this is just the beginning of Jackline’s story.
My story starts four years ago when I was happily married. Actually, that is the time I realized I had conceived. I thought it was good to go to the antenatal clinic early enough. When I went to the clinic I was tested. I was HIV-positive.
When I was diagnosed with HIV I thought it would be the end of me and my unborn child. I was devastated. I was stressed out. I didn’t know what to do. Because I had heard stories about HIV/AIDS but actually I didn’t know the real story behind it. I didn’t know the real facts so I cried.
That is when I was brought to the mothers2mothers program to talk with the Mentor Mothers. They taught me that being HIV positive is not actually dying the next day. They gave me hope for life. I was taught how to take my medication correctly. I learned about positive living, safe sex practices, CD4 counts and the importance of making a choice about breastfeeding and sticking to it exclusively.
Then they told me that for me actually to live positively I have to disclose to my husband. When I got home, I told my husband I was tested and I was HIV-positive. I tried to explain what I was told at the clinic but I never finished what I had to say. My husband started shouting at me. While I was still in shock he beat me up, insulted me and called me all sorts of names. Everyone at the homestead heard and knew that, as my husband said, I had brought death to the whole family. My clothes were thrown outside the gates and I was forced to leave.
I returned to mothers2mothers and the support I got from the Mentor Mothers made me realize that I could still live my life. I got inspired by the stories that were told by mothers in the support group and I knew I wanted to live, for myself and for my child.
Today I have not only given birth to an HIV-negative child, but I’m living a better and healthier life. I have income and I’m doing everything possible to make sure that I remain healthy, and more than that, I am helping other mothers make positive choices.
The stigma and discrimination I have faced did not kill me, instead it made me stronger. As a Mentor Mother myself, I am in turn helping hundreds of mothers find life after HIV diagnosis. I realize that had it not been for other mothers living with HIV, mothers who knew exactly what I was going through, I probably would have killed my child before she had a chance to take her first breath. Every time I meet a woman who is still crying because they have been diagnosed with HIV I hear my inner voice saying “there is hope”.
It takes one mother to save the life of another; my daughter and I are living proof.
Jackline’s remarkable journey does not stop there. In the four years since first seeking m2m’s support, Jackline has become a Site Coordinator overseeing daily operations of m2m’s site in Kisumu, Kenya; hosted U.S. Ambassador Scott Gration when he visited her site in August, 2011 (pictured at right); and spoke at the opening gala of the 2012 International AIDS Conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC this summer. It is extraordinary what a little empowerment can do!
An HIV-free generation is within our reach, and Jackline and m2m’s other Mentor Mothers are helping to make that dream a reality. Pediatric AIDS has virtually been eliminated in the developed world, yet nearly 900 babies in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV every day. There is no reason for any baby, anywhere, to be born with HIV. This World AIDS Days, please support the work of Mentor Mothers like Jackline so that they can help more HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers find life after an HIV diagnosis and keep their babies free of HIV.