My name is Esther. I am 17 years old and living with HIV. I come from a big family of 20 children, each of us from a different mother. My father had many wives and children, but we were not close; in fact, I only know two of my siblings.
After my mother passed away when I was only three months old, I was taken to live with one of my stepmothers. She was an alcoholic and treated me very poorly. Luckily, after searching for many years, my maternal aunt found me. She began to bring me food and other essentials, but my stepmother would take everything and sell it.
When I was 11 years old, my aunt took me to my grandparents. I have not seen or heard from my dad ever since, but that’s okay. I don’t really miss him because I know he doesn’t love me.
Because my grandparents knew that my mother had died from AIDS, they took me for a check-up. My blood was drawn, and the next day we returned for my results. I was HIV-positive. I couldn’t believe it. I cried and cried for months. Amazingly, at home nothing changed. Everyone continued treating me well.
Although I was loved, I was still very depressed.
I was told about a mentoring and counseling program called the Ariel Club, which was offered through the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Ariel Club was named in honor of Ariel Glaser, Elizabeth Glaser’s daughter who had died from AIDS-related illness as a child. I missed the first two meetings because I was afraid everyone would know my status. Finally on the third meeting, one of the counselors offered to accompany me. I was one of the oldest children in the group, but I enjoyed the younger children looking up to me and I began to love going to meetings. The Ariel Club and its counselors became my family. There was even a time I couldn’t afford the supplies I needed for school, and the Ariel Club bought them for me. I was so grateful.
One day at school a nosy friend found my antiretroviral medication. She must have shown it to everyone because later that day my classmates began to act differently around me. My schoolmates started isolating me. They refused to eat with me.
My friends told me I had no future and that I should leave school. I was sad and upset and I didn’t see the need to live, so I stopped taking the medicine that kept me healthy. I got very sick and was admitted to the hospital.
My Ariel Club friends visited me and encouraged me not to give up. Slowly I began feel better. I even managed to complete my final exams. I know I will make it because I am a bright girl.
Today I am very happy and have hope that I will live to be someone great one day. I plan to continue with school.
My advice to other children like me is to not lose hope. Instead, look forward to a bright future. Thanks, Ariel Club for making me love myself once again.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation no longer provides services in Mukono district. As of May 2010, the Foundation initiated a new project, Strengthening Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Response in the South Western Region of Uganda (STAR-SW). STAR-SW is a comprehensive, district-based HIV/AIDS and TB program.
Children from Mukono district, like Esther, continue to receive services through the Uganda Ministry of Health.