News

AIDS-Stricken Mother Wages War Against HIV

Catherine Wyatt-Morley provides services to people impacted by HIV/AIDS

After testing positive for HIV, Catherine Wyatt-Morley established an organization which provides HIV testing, counseling, support and nutrition services for people infected with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS.
After testing positive for HIV, Catherine Wyatt-Morley established an organization which provides HIV testing, counseling, support and nutrition services for people infected with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS.

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

When Catherine Wyatt-Morley tested positive for HIV, she was told she had six years to live.

Nearly two decades later, the mother of three is still alive, still fighting AIDS and finding strength in helping other women like her.

Shock of her life

Wyatt-Morley had a good life - a happy marriage, three lovely children and a good job. Then, in 1994, at a follow-up visit after surgery, her doctor told her she was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“I could not believe that that is what he said to me. I was married for over 10 years. I had never had sex outside of marriage," she says. "I was completely faithful to my husband. I had never injected a drug. I had never gotten a blood transfusion or anything else. So I was devastated. After all these years, I have yet to find a word in the English language that supersedes the word devastation.”

Wyatt-Morley learned she had contracted the virus from her husband. He was later diagnosed with AIDS and ultimately lost his battle with the disease. She was left alone to deal with  the new realities in her life.

“We lost everything: kicked out of my home, lost my job. I was kicked out of my church. My family turned their backs," she remembers. "So what I had to do was begin to prioritize: who was going to take care of my children, how I was actually going to prepare to pay for my own burial, all of those kinds of things.”

Journal of an HIV-positive mother

At that point, she started to write letters to her children.

“I thought I was going to die and leave my children motherless and wanted my children to understand exactly who I was,” she says.

Out of those letters came a book: "AIDS Memoir: Journal of an HIV-Positive Mother."

Half a world away, in Kenya, Pierina Guantai, another HIV positive mother, picked up the book.

“The book was very inspiring to me because I was going through a very difficult moment,” Guantai says. “I’m reading her book and seeing my life reflected in that situation. The book really encouraged me. And Catherine has helped me grow, made me strong, made me feel worthy.”

That sort of feedback inspired Wyatt-Morley to do even more.

War on HIV/AIDS

“Out of my anguish, out of my misery, I gave birth to an organization that started in 1994 in the bedroom of my home,” she says.

The organization, Women on Maintaining Education and Nutrition - the acronym spells WOMEN - provides HIV testing, counseling, support and nutrition services for people infected with, affected by or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

“We have a staff of 13," Wyatt-Morley says. "We’re the only organization in the state in which the programs are administered by an African-American woman living with AIDS, so I know very clearly the plight of the individuals we work with and work for.”

Wyatt-Morley has traveled around the world to speak about her experiences. She went to Africa to see the impact of AIDS first hand. She visited monks in Thailand to learn about their holistic approach to AIDS care.

She has become the voice of the voiceless. And always- she offers inspiration for other women living with HIV, like Pierina Guantai, who started her own organization in Nairobi with help from Wyatt-Morley’s group.

Spreading the word

“I go speak with the people living with HIV, encouraging and giving support to families and individuals infected or affected by HIV and AIDS,” Guantai says.

Her main focus is middle class women and children.

“The government in Kenya has developed programs with the support of the international community. The stigma among the middle class is still high, which is preventing people from reaching out for services. Poor people are more willing, more receptive to services than the middle class. The other challenge I think is handling children who have HIV themselves and the orphans left behind when parents die.”

Though they have never met in person, Guantai credits Catherine Wyatt-Morley for the success her group has achieved so far.

Wyatt-Morley believes solidarity among women with HIV/AIDS is essential in their fight against the disease.

“Though we’re located in the south of the United States, we really would like for women around the world to know that they have a sister in the fight," she says. "If they need to communicate, please reach out, we’re here to support in any way we can.”

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Josephine Wambui
March 15, 2012 4:02 AM
This is the word of hope that families need. that there is care around and one doesn't have to hide and wallow in devastation. I salute your courage Catherine and Pierina.

by: Elliott Robinson
March 07, 2012 11:50 AM
Great story, about a great lady! I live in Nashville, and I have seen first hand how powerful WOMEN's work is. They are a very valuable asset to our community; we'd be in a mighty bad way without people like Catherine doing the things they do to help people infected with, and affected by, the virus.

by: Pierina Guantai
March 06, 2012 1:34 AM
They are equally deserving. WOMEN recognises their role in supporting all helping process and can not be over-emphasize the need to have men on board. I hope VoA will run more stories....

by: Pierina Guantai
March 05, 2012 11:59 PM
They are equally deserving. WOMEN recognises their role in supporting all helping process and can not be over-emphasize the need to have men on board. I hope VoA will run more stories....

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs