Alame Atubaba, Ethiopia
Founder of a Community HIV/AIDS Association South Omo, Ethiopia
When I founded the Association there were only a few people who had disclosed their HIV status in the community. As a result of the Association's work, there are many more people who feel strong enough to let the community know their status.
My husband died of AIDS, but died ignorantly. I think actually he was in fear, in denial of finding out. When he died he left me with 11 children and hardly any money ‰ÛÒ he was the breadwinner of the family. I also found out I had contracted HIV from him. It was very difficult for me to get work, and we became extremely poor, with hardly anything to eat or drink. I spoke to the local government officials in Jinka, desperate to see if there was something more I could do. They directed me to AMREF. With AMREF's support, I set up this Association -they provided an office and equipment, and helped me develop a business plan to structure the organisation and devise its funding strategy. The Association runs many different income-generating schemes for people living with HIV/AIDS.
At first there were only four members. But I motivated many more to join. I convinced my friends and others in the community to be tested for HIV, as I suspected that many had been infected without realising it. There are over 100 now, from many different villages.
I was open about living with HIV from the start. I told my family and they were very supportive, I suffered no stigmatisation like a lot of other people I knew had before. I felt strong, and compelled to talk more and more about living with the virus to community members, children in schools, and at local government offices to as many people as possible to confront the fear surrounding HIV. Attitudes are now really changing. People no longer feel scared to be tested. In fact, when the community health professional comes, there is a long line of people queuing up to get tested right in the centre of the village, in front of everyone.
Things have not been easy but I always focus on the positive. There are no challenges, only opportunities. I have taught my children to practice safe sex and how to protect themselves. Happily, they are all free from the virus. I intend for them to stay that way.
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