EIGHT years ago when she went for medical checkup and was diagnosed with HIV, her first reaction was shock, and her second was regret. Shock because she did not expect to be infected, and regret because everyone around her denounced her. All she wanted to do was die.
That was eight years ago, and things have changed ever since. FulgensiaSegenya is now 53 years old, happy, and living a positive life. On top of that, she no longer wants to die and is instead focused on making a living through livestock keeping. Her hope can only be credited to the work of KIHUMBE, a local NGO in Mbeya striving to improve the lives of People Living with HIV through its Home Based Care program. The program is funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), through DOD( WRP/HJFMRI).
Despite the long journey that she has gone through since that fateful day in 2006, Fulgensia, who lives in Mamba village located in Chunya district, Mbeya region, can never forget how she had gone from being an outcast, to an accepted member of the community. The stigma that she faced during the early days of her diagnosis was too much to the extent that she thought life had no meaning at all.
“My life was so difficult after the diagnosis. My family abandoned me and nobody cared to help me at the time. I was too weak to walk to the health facility for treatment, and that made me even worse. Even the community discriminated against me, saying that I would infect them. I felt so lonely and imagined my life was ending,” she recalls.
Fulgensia’s life journey as she calls it took a twist later when KIHUMBE’s Community Provider, FaustineMwasenga visited her and showed her another side of life: that of love, peace and joy. The community provider through the HBC program counseled her and even convinced her to join a support group that made her realize she was not the only one living with HIV, and being infected did not mean the end of life.
“I should be honest by saying that this young man changed my life. I never imagined I would be here today, but he gave me strength and even educated my family and the community about my status. It changed them completely since they were naïve in the beginning, but once they became aware, the stigma towards me stopped completely,” says a happy Fulgensia.
hen she started using ARVs in 2006, her CD4 count was only 80 and her body weight was only 20kgs. Right now after being in treatment, everything has improved, and she has even started a livestock business with help from KIHUMBE who gave her two piglets. The pigs are now all grown up and have produced eight more piglets that have now become Fulgencia’s source of income. Since she sold some of them to help buy food and school necessities for her children, she is now left with five pigs that are about to produce even more piglets.
For Fulgencia, being in contact with KIHUMBE saved her life. It is not just about starting a livestock business that is helping her to survive, she says, but the fact that the community surrounding her is now aware of AIDS and has stopped discriminating against people living with HIV. To her, that is the ultimate success, as it has brought her life back and her hopes back. The 53 year old is no longer shocked nor does she have any regrets, but a purposeful life to be happy and healthy.