Today is World AIDS Day, and one of the countries hit hardest by the ravaging effects of this disease is Uganda. Last year Austin Bailey visited a village where nearly every family is effected by the disease, and she captured their stories for World Ark magazine. What better way to observe World AIDS Day than to read an inspiring story of how these families are overcoming hunger and poverty in spite of the disease’s aftermath.
Uganda was among the first sub-Saharan countries to fall victim to the AIDS epidemic. The country’s first case was diagnosed in 1982, and by 1992 the prevalence rate climbed to 18 percent. That number is down to roughly 5.4 percent among adults in Uganda now. It’s progress, but it still seems high compared with the United States’ 0.6 percent rate of adult HIV/AIDS infections.
In Abokakwap, a village hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic, people are hopeful. Because the Ugandan government and nonprofit groups subsidize anti-retroviral treatments, and because infection rates are dropping, the sickness is not the menace it once was. Still, the villagers of Abokakwap deal with HIV and AIDS daily. When the epidemic was new, people were afraid to admit they were infected or even seek treatment because of the stigma that was attached. Today, that stigma is largely gone, especially in places like Abokakwap where just about every family is affected. Most households include at least one orphan taken in when the parents died of AIDS.
Christine Aanyu, 37, is both lucky and unlucky when it comes to AIDS. She’s unlucky because both she and her husband are HIV positive. She’s lucky because she remains in good health for the most part, despite some joint pain and aches in her chest. She’s also lucky that none of her eight children, ages 20 months to 17 years, have tested positive for HIV. Last year Aanyu’s family received oxen as part of a heifer project. They use them to cultivate cabbages, cowpeas and peanuts so they can eat healthfully and make some extra money at the markets.
Aanyu isn’t shy about revealing her status, and she’s hopeful enough to make plans for herself and her family for years down the road. Like many of the women of Abokakwap village, Aanyu carves out four hours a week for a literacy class. She enrolled because she couldn’t understand her children’s schoolbooks, and she wanted to one day be able to read the Bible for herself.
Aanyu is a strong student, as are most of her classmates, teacher Harriet Adong reported. “They are good learners, and they are so much united. When they are digging, they are working in one garden. They are always together,” she said.
The students help each other as much as they can, but sometimes it’s not enough. Aanyu asked to send a message to people in the United States in hopes of helping them understand a bit more about what her life is like.
“Please tell them that people in Africa try their best, but we don’t have every resource we need,” she said through a translator. “If you can help, then I would appreciate it very much.”
Austin Bailey is a senior editor for Heifer International’s World Ark magazine. This post is an excerpt of “After The Animals” from the Holiday 2009 issue.