When we arrived at her home, she sat waiting for us on a mat before the door. She was pretty – eyes big and round, brows furrowed, hair combed back and a little disheveled. We guessed that maybe she was twenty-five, but really she was thirty-two. If we made eye-contact when we shook hands, it only lasted a moment before she averted her gaze back to the ground. Her name was Generous.
She invited us into her low, thatched roof hut, where we found nothing but a few pots, a couple chairs, and a small foam mattress. We asked if she could share her story.
Her home and the other three in the clearing belonged to her husband’s four wives, she being the youngest. He was an army man, rarely present, providing little support, and leaving the women to raise his children, dig in the garden, cook, and pay for their children’s education, she told us. She was HIV+. Two of her children were lost to secondary illnesses as a result of HIV, a six year-old daughter lived, and she was pregnant with a fourth. Generous confessed that she had been lonely; she and the other wives were not friendly with one another, and her HIV status made her a pariah in town.
When we asked what she thought her future might look like, she said that she couldn’t know – that all she could expect was darkness.
But she wasn’t alone.
When Generous had found out that she was pregnant again, she sought out antenatal care at a nearby health clinic, where she was simultaneously tested for HIV. Already she had suspected she had the virus, since her two children had died unusually early and because she, too, frequently fell sick, so she was unsurprised when she tested positive. What she did not expect, however, was her immediate enrollment in GWED-G’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) program.
On Wednesday and Friday of last week, the GROW team conducted home visits to twelve of the forty pregnant HIV+ women currently enrolled in the PMTCT program. Generous was the first. What the other mothers told us rang similar to what we had already heard from Generous: since discovering their HIV status, the mothers’ lives had not been easy. Many had contemplated or attempted suicide, lost children, been kicked out by their husbands and turned away by their families, and had struggled through illness after illness to survive and provide for their children.
Alone they were weak, one mother told us, but together they were strong. Through the PMTCT program, the mothers found friends. They shared, they listened, they counseled, and they supported one another. When one fell sick, she knew she could rely on the others to work together to help with her gardening. When another needed to have her voice heard, she found myriad ears at the ready. And because of the educational component of the program, they had begun to learn how to protect their babies from HIV.
Though their futures seemed uncertain – and maybe even dark – the mothers have, with GWED-G’s support, finally found some light in their unity, in their friendship, and in the possibility that their babies may be born healthy and strong.
GROW Team out.