Josephine Nabukenya

“Every individual has their own river of life and all of them have never been straight. I shared my river of life and guided other children to draw their own; at the end of it all everyone had seen how far they have come and all the good and bad moments they have been through.”

Like so many children living with HIV in Uganda, Josephine Nabukenya wasn’t aware of her HIV status during most of her childhood. When she was eight years old she came across a letter written by her mother that revealed the devastating news—Josephine, her mother, father, and younger sister were all living with HIV. Josephine and her sister both contracted the virus from their mother during her pregnancy. Her mother only disclosed her HIV status to Josephine a few years later — and discovered then that she already knew.

Josephine with Ben Banks and his wife
Josephine with Jake Glaser

Josephine was shocked, but also relieved to finally have an explanation for why she and the rest of family seemed to suffer from so many health problems. And now that the family’s HIV status was out in the open, Josephine decided to seek treatment.

Shortly after starting on antiretroviral therapy at a local hospital, Josephine was introduced to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s Ariel Club—a psychosocial support group for children and teens who are infected or affected by HIV.

“For the first time in a long while, I had hope that I could live with HIV. In the Ariel Club we played games, wrote, sang, and read different stories,” said Josephine. “We were a family and it was fun being together and sharing our stories without the fear of stigma or discrimination.

My involvement in Ariel Club helped me to learn to accept my status and to talk openly about living with HIV.”

Soon Josephine became an Ariel Club facilitator, leading sessions to help other children accept their own HIV status and seek the treatment they needed to stay healthy.  Through her time at Ariel, using her story to help guide others to overcome the challenges of a life with HIV, her confidence in the promise of her own life also grew stronger.

“I surprised myself one year on World AIDS Day when I shared my personal story with hundreds of people,” said Josephine. “After my speech, I received thunderous applause and many people, including children, thanked me for giving them hope and encouragement.

That’s when I stopped being afraid to speak out.”

Today Josephine continues to speak out as an Ambassador for EGPAF–from her work with Ariel Clubs in Uganda to speaking in front of members of the U.S. Congress, Josephine’s story inspires other people to learn about HIV and fight the stigma and discrimination around the disease.

Josephine is earning her degree in Social Work from Makerere University in Uganda. She also serves as a Stephen Lewis Foundation Youth program coordinator at Makerere University Johns Hopkins University (MUJHU) and was recently awarded the Queen’s Young Leader 2016 award for her advocacy work.

Profile last updated: July 2016