BURUNDI: Devote Barajenguye: "When I found out I was HIV-positive, I breathed a sigh of relief"

Photo: Judith Basutama/IRIN
Devote Barajenguye encourages other HIV-positive Burundians not to give up on life.
BUJUMBURA, 30 January 2008 (PlusNews) - Devote Barajenguye is a secondary school teacher and the mother of two teenagers. After her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness and the discovery that she was also HIV positive, she decided to put aside self-pity and encourage others living with HIV to adopt a more optimistic outlook on life.

"When I was informed of my status in 1999, I could not say I was happy - of course not, you cannot rejoice over such bad news - but I really sighed in relief. I had spent years in anguish and fear, asking myself what my life would be like if I tested positive; what would become of my children?

"When I found out, I had sleepless nights, I drank alcohol just to forget and I cursed God for my fate, but at least I knew. There was no more speculation.

"A doctor had advised my husband to do an HIV test, but we thought, what for? There was no possibility of getting ARVs [antiretrovirals], as they were so expensive back then, and there was no possibility of getting them free as we do today. Plus, the stigma around HIV was so high.

"But when he started developing opportunistic infections, he decided to go for a test - there was no other choice. It was too late by then, and he died in 2001. I was shocked. Maybe that's when I got the strength to act; I decided it would be different for me. In my life I had always been an open-minded person, a positive woman; I decided to use this to live positively despite my status.

"To start with, I told my children about their father's disease and my own status. They already knew - people around them talked, especially when it came to people's HIV status. I realised the kids had changed their attitude, taking care not to anger me and the like.

"Next I informed my family, friends, colleagues, even neighbours. I told them not to worry about me, I was here to stay. I joked with them, saying I would not even need drugs. It is true. I regularly go for medical checks, but I haven't yet needed drugs. "By being open, I was sure there would be nobody speaking behind my back, everyone knew.

"When I joined an HIV/AIDS support association, I found people there in a very bad situation, almost at the last stage of the disease ... I realised I was blessed.

"I decided to help them as much as I can. In our regular meetings I used songs, dances and jokes to help them get back the smile on their lips. I used to tell them they are not dead, even if other people believe it.

"I tried to bring them to have another outlook on their disease. I told them, 'Your life is what you make of it, and if you are always stressed and living in fear then it will affect your immune system'.

"Hearing many people on ARVs complaining about side effects, I organised some 'soft' sports activities like walking and other physical exercises. They are happy with the results but, most important, they have understood that sports are for everybody, including HIV-positive people.

"The fact that I talk freely about my status, giving testimonies on radio stations or in conferences, pushed many to come to me to ask advice. Now people can wake me up to ask what they can do to get drugs, or to get a relative to know his or her status.

"When I see a person who was near death resume work, smile and hope, I feel rewarded. I also started an HIV/AIDS club at school, where we give the students basic knowledge on HIV, since it is not easy to get the information from their families. We show them educational videos, invite people for testimonies and so on.

"I believe HIV is a disease which raises fear, but it all depends on a person, on the way you look at it. I have not changed my way of living nor my life vision because of it."


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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