By David Njagi
The guns of Northern Uganda may have gone silent, but for Faiza Mogeni, the trail of destruction they left continues to stir mixed fits of emotion.
Like many of her neighbours who were destined to flee the volatile North, Faiza found herself without a home, a social life and of course, promise of a future.
But Faiza’s story is one of courage, determination and the belief that what destiny had taken away, faith would bring back.
A suitor appeared and she found herself swimming in the waters of marital bliss. “I loved my husband,” says the 42-year-old mother of three. “It was my hope that God would bless our marriage and protect it from the evils of today’s society.”
For a woman who always believes in going against known odds, what followed was a heart breaking experience that for a moment made her belief she was destined to live under the shadow of a curse.
“My husband would go and commit adultery with a woman who had lost about four lovers,” recalls Faiza. “It was not long before friends started pointing out to me that the woman who was snatching away my husband was infected with HIV/AIDS. After a while she died.”
It was not long too, before the many friends she had made started ebbing away after she tested positive for HIV/AIDS. But her most bitter experience, recalls Faiza, was when she confronted her husband with the news that she was infected.
“I voluntarily went to test at the clinic but instead of appreciating my effort, my husband reprimanded me,” says Faiza. “He accused me of being immoral but I challenged him to go for a test too. Instead he was hostile to me and he eventually deserted me.”
Just as Faiza’s tale evokes compassion, so does it inspire her colleagues here at the Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS initiative in the heart of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. And for those who have aced the test of the pandemic with her, like Dr. Stella Allamo, hope beckons.
Dr. Allamo has been the executive director of the programme at the Parish since 2005, and according to her, the initiative was incepted following the realization that communities were swelling with people who had fled the war but were already infected with the virus.
According to her, Northern Uganda was the beginning of a dark age, for people sneaked past enemy lines clutching whatever earthly possessions they had sifted from their previous homes.
But for most of them, she says, it was tragedy that they carried south because in their bloodstreams lurked the HIV virus that was soon sucked up into t
he labyrinth of finding a place in new settlements. And so the epidemic spread.
“Small Christian organisations were moving out to work in the communities and they realized that many people were dying of HIV/AIDS due to lack of social services,” says Dr. Allamo. “The parish priests came out and called on people to come out and help. The programme is built on the basis of faith, to help people who were displaced from their communities.”
Dr. Allamo has a team of trained nurses here at Mbuya Parish, and according to her, the Reach Out campaign follows a different type of approach to HIV/AIDS because it encourages interaction and creativity, among PLWHA.
And just like she and a few of her colleagues here at Mbuya Parish had anticipated, the programme is giving hope to people who a few years ago were seen as the black sheep of the societies they lived in.
Just a few kilometers outside Kampala, one group makes beads, another weaves an assortment of handicrafts, while yet another, has synergized to farm pigs and excavate ballast at a nearby mine.
“We encourage them to undertake initiatives that they can own and manage with little effort,” says Dr. Allamo. “We then chip in to help where we can in for instance, sourcing markets for their products to ensure the projects are sustainable.”
During last year’s HIV/AIDS implementers’ conference held in Kampla, President Yoweri Museveni appealed for an open approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The disease, he said, can only be fought by demystifying its virulent nature.
For now however, memories of Northern Uganda still linger, but Faiza Mogeni is not about to let the esteem of the friends she has made fall under any shadow of doubt.
“This is because Mbuya Parish has made me new,” she says. “We are just beginning to turn the tide.”