Planting a Bright Future: Paul’s Story
Homa Bay District in Western Kenya is a bustling fishing community that borders Lake Victoria and is surrounded by lush, green hills. Motor bikes zip up and down the narrow dirt roads, serving as taxis, shuttling adults dressed in business attire to work, and children in colorful uniforms to school.
Most of the residents are fishermen or small scale farmers. When I visited in March, it was planting season — a time for new beginnings and growth.
Paul Odwar, 14, looks forward to this time of year because he gets to plant trees.
“I used to be sick a lot and wasn’t able to play or plant trees,” said Paul.
Three years ago, Paul couldn’t even think about farming, helping with chores, or playing his favorite sport — soccer. He was just too sick. After several visits to the hospital his HIV positive status was finally confirmed. Paul and his mother, Jacqueline, 42, had to make frequent trips to the Homa Bay District Hospital so he could receive treatment. After making the 10 kilometer trip by foot, they would spend the entire day at the hospital waiting to receive treatment.
“After learning his status and getting treatment, he started feeling better,” said Jacqueline.
Paul now receives care and treatment at the Ngegu Dispensary twice a month. Ngegu is just a short walk from his home he shares with his mother and six siblings. His average visit lasts about one hour, compared to 8 to 10 hours at the hospital.
“We are happy to come here [Ngegu] and get medicines. The drugs will help Paul prevent diseases like diarrhea,” said Jacqueline.
The Ngegu Dispensary is part of the EGPAF-supported PAMOJA project. The project is funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition to the medical treatment Paul gets at Ngegu, he also receives psychosocial support. He belongs to an adolescent support group that includes 10 other young people living with HIV.
“I feel good because I’m not alone, and knowing that others have the same problem makes me feel better,” commented Paul.
Ngegu is a family affair for the Odwars. Paul’s mother Jacqueline is also a patient there, and through successful prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV services, she has given birth to three more children, all of whom are HIV free.
Paul says he has learned to live with his HIV status and is looking forward to a long life. He plans to have a career working as a manager for the government.
“People should not fear HIV, they should be strong. The disease will remain with you until you die, but will not kill you if you take your drugs.”
Racine Tucker-Hamilton is EGPAF’s associate director of media communications and editorial services.