(Stephanie is a guest blogger from Occidental College -class of 2011. – in Rwanda for a month)
Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
This week our focus shifted from the health of boys and men to women’s
health. Today we had our first workshop with a group of women who are
HIV+. Teaching people who are already affected by HIV was so different
than teaching people about HIV/AIDS. Instead of asking the group what
they knew about HIV/AIDS and how these diseases have affected their
communities we heard personal stories about how HIV has affected their
lives and what many of them deal with not only in regards to their
physical health, but in regards to emotions and conflict with their
families. Some of the women have children or teenagers who are also
HIV+, or their husbands are HIV+, so the virus has really affected
entire families. It is hard enough for many of them to afford or
obtain ARVs for treatment, yet even for those who are able to get
ARVs, they do not have enough money to afford food. The medication is
so strong and often makes those with normal, healthy diets nauseas,
however when these women take ARVs with barely any food, their health
is severely compromised. These women need to take ARVs to control
their HIV, yet with the absence of food, their bodies are pushed into
an even weaker state.
It was difficult teaching women who are struggling with the symptoms
and outcomes of HIV yet it was also inspiring to see that these women
had a good support group among each other, and that they still were
hopeful to continue living. Before our workshop started, the group
held a short prayer session. The women began to sing and dance in
prayer, and the group seemed to come alive with energy. These women
still have spirit, and it was amazing to see women who despite being
affected by HIV, have fun and enjoy themselves. Amy and I were even
pulled into the dancing, which greatly amused the women, although I
think our clapping skills were much better than our dancing skills.
As HIV+ women, this group takes on multiple burdens of work, not only
struggling with their illnesses, but also caring for their families
and finding employment to pay for either their ARVs, food, or both.
Yet it was moving to see that although these women have many conflicts
that women in the US or more developed parts of the world do not have
to deal with, they have more confidence and drive for a better life.
It is often those who have little, who have the biggest hearts.