Ayoo: The headteacher who resigned over HIV stigma

Proscovia Ayoo

What you need to know:

  • Ms Ayoo told this publication that she tested positive for HIV/Aids in 1998 and became a widow in 1999 when her husband passed on, leaving her with four children.

Proscovia Ayoo, a resident of Tororo Municipality, Amagoro B Central Village in Tororo District and a teacher by profession, tells a story of the traumatic experiences she went through after she was diagnosed with HIV/Aids and decided to be open about her status.

Ms Ayoo told this publication that she tested positive for HIV/Aids in 1998 and became a widow in 1999 when her husband passed on, leaving her with four children.

“I started my teaching career in 1983. When I tested positive for the virus, I was a headteacher at Osukuru Primary School in Tororo District and it was at a time when HIV stigma was very high. There was little knowledge known about the disease,” Ms Ayoo said.

Ms Ayoo revealed that she became open about her status because at the time, she didn’t know of any professionals that had come out to publicly declare that they are HIV-positive, only common people like peasants were declaring their positive HIV statuses.

“I then contested to become Centre Advisory Committee Member of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO), Tororo, I went through and in 2000, I became the Vice Chairperson of the Centre Advisory Committee Member of TASO, Tororo, I think I went through because of my background as a teacher and because I was advocating for the rights of people living with HIV/Aids, because we would go in communities and talk on radios sensitizing people on how to test for the virus and also how to live positively with HIV,” Ms Ayoo said.

Ms Ayoo revealed that sensitising people about HIV/Aids exposed her to the world, people knew her and suddenly in 2003, the Tororo District Education Officer (DEO) by then transferred her to another school called Okwara Primary School that was like six sub counties away from her home.

“The earliest I would reach school was 9am when they were done with assembly and I would leave early at 3pm so that I would reach home at 6pm before it was dark. This was so challenging for me, but I persisted with my job, I kept commuting, but suddenly the communities of that school I had been transferred to, locked me out of my office because I was outspoken about HIV,” Ms Ayoo said.

She then reported the matter to the DEO and informed him that she had been locked out of her office

“The DEO responded that hahaha, I knew, you have been all over opening your mouth talking about HIV, I knew you would come back, now here you are, which school can I take you? Everybody knows you are HIV-positive. I don’t think there is any school that will allow you, I don’t know what to do with you,” Ms Ayoo said.

Ms Ayoo said she then went back home and sat, no letter written to expel her, she wasn’t chase from school officially, no communication at all, she sat home for about nine years, that is from 2003 to 2011, but she was getting her salary because she had not been expelled, the only reason they couldn’t post her to another school was because she was HIV positive.

“So in that period when I was seated at home, in 2004, TASO invited me to do a counselling course, I paid my fees, studied my six months course, then in 2006 I applied to become an HIV counsellor at TASO and worked there for three years,” Ms Ayoo said.

She revealed that then in 2012, the District counsel sat and asked why she wasn’t deployed and yet she was not sick, so that is when the DEO allowed to deploy her

“But he would deploy me with one hand and take it away with another hand. When he would deploy me to a school, he would be the first to reach there and tell them that I am sending her here but don’t allow her in,” Ms Ayoo revealed.

Ms Ayoo revealed that after her long stay at home, she was posted to Osire Primary School in Tororo District.

“Here, they made my life very hard, the headteacher didn’t allow me to handover to me, they even brought the media, and community people to abuse me, asking me questions for a full hour, but I braved all that,” she said.

She added that, “So one morning, when I still insisted that they should handover the school to me, I went to the school and they had made placards and pinned them right from the gate, all the school buildings saying Proscovia Ayoo, we don’t want you here, I got demoralised, went back home and sat down.”

Ms Ayoo said that after that the DEO then again posted her to another school called Pajangango Primary School in Tororo District, but there also, the community and the school rejected her.

“They drummed for me as if I was a ghost, blew whistles, threw sticks at me and barred me from entering the school, so I got frustrated, went back home and sat down for about four months and they posted me to Tororo Prisons Primary School in 2015, there, the teachers completely refused that I shouldn’t be their headteacher,” Ms Ayoo said.

She added that, “In fact there, they posted me and also posted another headteacher, so we were two head teachers pulling ropes. For Example when the term was about to end, I wanted to sign the report cards, but also the other headteacher wanted to sign the report cards, but I was the official headteacher.  So the teachers waited on the break off day and they poured more than 900 report cards on my sign so that children can get them that very day, which wasn’t possible.”

“The teachers even made children to gang up on me that day, the children threw stones on the roof, I got out of my office, they threw stones at me, they bullied me, pulled my clothes, pulled my bag, they threw soil in my eyes, I tried to find an escape route, but all in vain, the teachers had even instructed boda bodas not to take me home, but thank God, a boda boda rider accepted to take me home and that is how I survived whatever would happen next,” Ms Ayoo said.

She revealed that as the children bullied and beat her, she tried to call the Local Council Chairman of the area to come to her rescue but he claimed he was far, she called the Local Council Vice Chairman of the area who also claimed he was far.

“With all those frustrations and many others that I even forgot, I sat down, talked to myself and said I think I have had enough of this trauma. In February 2016, I resigned, I took my letter to the CAO of Tororo District, who asked me to think over this decision saying maybe I am not in my right state of mind, but I insisted that I had thought it over and I decided to resign,” She said.

She added that, “I went through the right procedure and got early retirement before I reached 60 years, so I resigned when I had eight years remaining to retire.”

Ms Ayoo told people out there who have just been diagnosed with the virus, to practice positive living, take their medicine rightly, and they will live a healthy and long life.

“Let no one look down on you, don’t give up on your drugs because someone has said something mean to you, be strong, you will inspire many,” Ms Ayoo said.

Ms Ayoo is now the district coordinator for people living with HIV/Aids in Tororo District and said she represents teachers living with HIV/Aids on the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU).

Ms Stella Kentusi, the executive director NAFOPHANU said HIV stigma is one of the hindrances to the fight against HIV because it negatively impacts on a person’s mental health and wellbeing

 “When someone tests positive for HIV, you should prepare them, counsel them. They need to be around people that are kind to them, so we use peers that are living with HIV to tell the new person that well, you have tested positive but you still have a life to live, so that they can be strong,” Ms Kentusi said.

Data from Uganda Aids Commission shows that 1.4 million Ugandans are living with HIV.

What next

Ayoo is now the district coordinator for people living with HIV/Aids in Tororo District and said she represents teachers living with HIV/Aids on the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU).