Nabanoba’s journey of HIV and activism

Saturday November 30 2019

Nabanoba plays tennis and engages the y

Nabanoba plays tennis and engages the youth to fight stigma against HIV. PHOTO BY GEORGE KATONGOLE.. 

By George Katongole

“I grew up in the outskirts of Kampala in Nansana, Yesu Amala Village, in Nabweru Sub-county, Wakiso District. On September 26, 2012, I was diagnosed with HIV, although I did not know my status for a very long time.

After completing Senior Six at St Mary’s SS Kitende in 2011, I joined my mother at her stall in St Balikuddembe Market. I got into love affairs as early as Senior Two with married men. But at one point, I decided to go for a test at the nearby clinic in Nansana. When the doctor told me I was HIV negative, I was relieved but I still had fears because I was having sex with many men.”

Diagnosis
Two months later, I went to collect rent from the ‘doctor’ and instead he got mad at me. It is at this point that I discovered that he had told almost everyone he knew that I had HIV/Aids. He also told my mother that day. I could not believe what I was hearing when my mother told me to go for an HIV test. I was dating a married man within our neighbourhood and I suspected he had infected me.

I was so bitter. I spent the entire night thinking of ways I could revenge against this man. When I went to Kakoni Clinic in Owino to seek a second opinion, I got the same response. When the counsellor told me I was HIV-positive, I yelled and cried like a baby. I kept asking myself how this happened. I felt so helpless and realised that all my dreams were shattered.

As I cried helplessly, an elderly man in the room comforted me. He asked me to calm down and assured me that everything would be okay. I did not have anything to say to him. I felt completely depressed. He told me to take all the time I needed to cry. He later told me to seek counselling.
I blamed myself for living a reckless life as I pondered the next move.

During this time, I was a student at Makerere University. When I tried forgiving myself, I got to tell my boyfriend who was a fish seller in Owino Market. All my hope was in him and I could not lose it. But I got questions when he looked relaxed when I broke the news. He said he would stand by me

even though he refused to use condoms. He always told me his results were with his football coach every time I sought to find out his status.
At the time, mummy kept encouraging me to start treatment. This was the hardest decision for me to make, I was scared that I would be judged and felt embarrassed. I built up the courage to get over my fear, and started my treatment, even though at the time I thought it was going to be the end for me.

Coping
All this changed when I met Ronah, a counsellor at Alive Medical Services. I agreed anyway.
But when my boyfriend started acting funny by showing me new girlfriends, I became suspicious. Why would he even tell me to read for him messages from his girlfriends? It was late but I discovered he was the cause of all the mess. I started taking life day by day, battling depression and with my disease.

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I wasted myself in bars taking alcohol. But Ronah helped by showing me how to be more positive about my life. In Jan 2013, I returned to university but for fear I joined Uganda Martyrs, Nkozi. It gave me a new way to cope with some challenges of life including my battle with HIV and depression. While here, I met a guy. He was HIV negative and resisted to take the test although he assured me he didn’t care. He refused to use condoms and in 2015, I gave birth to our five-year-old daughter even though we separated later. I am happy my daughter is HIV negative because we were a discordant couple.

Breaking the silence
I broke my silence on HIV to try to show that we can intervene as young people because we have a true understanding of the challenges and realities. I also wanted to break the chain.I was initially shy but during one of the annual parties at Alive Medical services, Ronah encouraged me to work as the Emcee. I did not know what to say but I am happy it changed my life.

I saw children as young as four happy and not so miserable like I was. When I spoke with mummy, she told me to avoid journalists. It was from one of these meetings that I met Edith, a former contestant in the “Y+ Beauty Pageant” and she encouraged me to contest. She found me vocal during the various meetings, especially during the Keep a Child Alive

Not the end
I dropped out of university but through my active role, I work as a monitoring and evaluation officer at Alive Medical Services, while also continuing to be a motivational speaker, HIV educator, counsellor and peer educator through the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/Aids (UNYPA).

I know what it means to have HIV at a young age, so I want to instill a sense of hope in those who have just learned about their status and encourage them to adhere to treatment to ensure that their virus load is suppressed.

For anyone out there affected with HIV, learn to love yourself and never give up. If you take your medicine, HIV will not kill you. I know you will hear this a lot but I can confidently say that it is not the end.

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