Her name is Beatrice Mukago and she is HIV+. Beatrice is a Congolese refugee that fled her country due to fear for her own safety. She has three children and no husband. Two of which relocated to Rwanda with her. Living life with HIV is no easy task and doing this without any energy is twice as difficult. In July of 2012 Beatrice was transferred to Kigeme Refugee Camp, here she realized that living as an HIV+ person would continue to be difficult. The negative stigma associated with People living with HIV in refugee camps is high and Beatrice mentioned to us that they are often overlooked and shunned from society; they are ostracized from the refugee community.
Living with HIV in a refugee camp is considered a near death sentence, socially they are excluded and “people are scared of getting tested and therefore treatment” describe Beatrice, without a community to support them any refugee will have difficulty surviving in a new location or country. Beatrice explains ” Upon arriving in the Kigeme I realized the difficulties I was going to face here, I first turned to the church for help but they informed me that they couldn’t help an individual and suggested the formation of an association.” The church’s suggestion was well received and Beatrice and others formed the first People Living with HIV (PLHIV) association in the camp. The first association consisted of only 58 members with Beatrice as their President, the founding of this association put her on the map, and the news of the founding of this association reached the ears of Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA).
AHA decided to support this association and were presented with three ideas. Beatrice tells us “They decided to support the association with a project. We discussed amongst ourselves and came up with ideas of either a: poultry farm, a sewing company or a mushroom farm. Upon discussion with AHA, a joint decision came that the most benefit for all involved would be a poultry farm.” So construction of a poultry farm supported by AHA in Kigeme camp started.
The establishment of this poultry project has paved the way for the association, reintegrating them into the refugee community here at the camp. Beatrice explains before the association and collaboration with AHA, the refugee community “ignored us and left us on the side of the road” however, that has changed. Beatrice says, “anyone buying eggs in the refugee camp comes to us now and our 300 chicken the formation of he poultry house has enabled our association to grow and for us to become respected contributors in the camp.”
Their objective since becoming an association is to provide support for PLHIV and both to become a community as well as to reduce the negative stigma associated with HIV. The poultry farm has increased awarness that HIV is not a death sentence anymore and that there is support around for PLHIV. Since the induction of the association the 58 members has since expanded to include 119 members in the association. The establishment of the association and the support from AHA has allowed them and the rest of the refugee community to understand that life does not come to a halt with and HIV+ diagnosis but that it continues. “AHA’s influence has aided us tremendously to grow as an association and aided us to become a part of the community again as they are highly respected in the camp” explains Beatrice. The future aims for this project is to continue providing a support network for PLHIV, educating the community atha HIV diagnosis is not the end and that life goes on. To support each other in good times and bad times aiding severely ill members and supporting each other in adherence to their medication and also providing a forum to discuss current problems and issues in the camp.
As a project it has positively affected a lot of people’s lives, not only Beatrice and her association but the refugee camp as well, educating them on HIV and including them into the camp’s community. Beatrice and others are finally able to help provide properly for their children and families, and the project has educated them and aided them in learning new skills. Most importantly however they have a community that supports each other and the negative stigma of HIV in the camp even though it is not eliminated it is reduced and people respect what the association is doing. A step in the right direction.
By Issa Dualeh, Volunteer at AHA in Rwanda