News / Africa

Ugandan Woman Works to End HIV Stigma

HIV youth activist Barbara Kemigisa at her home in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2012. (Hillary Heuler /VOA)
HIV youth activist Barbara Kemigisa at her home in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2012. (Hillary Heuler /VOA)
KAMPALA, Uganda – While the world's leading experts on HIV/AIDS are preparing for the upcoming AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington, D.C., one young Ugandan activist is focusing on problems much closer to home.

“I am Barbara Kemigisa, I am an activist and an upcoming artist, a single mother living with HIV,” Kemigisa tells the audience. She is fighting to rid her generation of the stigma attached to HIV, and to convince young HIV positives that their lives are not over yet.

On a sultry Kampala afternoon, the 26-year-old singer is rehearsing a new song in a make-shift sound studio in the Ugandan capital. This is not a love ballad or the next hot dance tune. Like everything Kemigisa does, her music is about self-confidence, hope and the possibilities of living with HIV.

Vibrant and charismatic, Kemigisa has become a spokeswoman for thousands of young people in Uganda, a country with an HIV infection rate of around seven percent.  The founder an organization called Stigma Free Generation, she puts in regular appearances on TV and radio shows, tells her story in magazine articles, and speaks in churches and schools.

Uphill battle

Kemigisa’s message to young people is this: do not let your HIV status destroy your life, conquer the stigma within you, and do not be afraid to say you are HIV positive.

But, Kemigisa says, it is an uphill battle.

“Because of stigma, people do not believe in themselves.  Because of stigma, people can not test for HIV.  People still say, ‘I would rather not know my status than test HIV positive.’  Mothers cannot save their unborn babies because they cannot tell their husbands that, I am HIV positive, I need your support,’” she says.

Kemigisa’s own story is difficult. Sexually molested as a child, she spent part of her teenage years living on the streets of Kampala. She eventually joined a church and discovered that she had a gift for counseling youth.

Kemigisa learned she was HIV positive when she was pregnant with her daughter, now three years old. But, she says, learning her status only galvanized her to try to help young people like herself.

“I kept what my passion was, to speak to young people," she explains. "I just looked at the whole issue of HIV, what it is all about, and I was like, 'OK, I think I know what I have to do.”

What she did was to come out very publicly about her status, wearing “HIV positive” earrings and T-shirts she made herself, and talking to everyone she met about the disease.

Stigma

She found that what hurt people the most was not HIV itself, but the stigma attached to it.

“It takes 40 years plus for HIV to kill, and it takes two years and less for AIDS to kill.  But it takes 10 minutes and less for stigma to kill," Kemigisa notes. "Someone just tells you something small to put you down, and that person commits suicide.”

It is often young people who are the most devastated, she says.

“They believe if they get HIV, their life is cut short," adds Kemigisa. "They just look at the things they may not be able to do because they are HIV-positive.”

Sometimes HIV-positive people are treated as though they were already dead, says Kemigisa, describing what happened to a friend of hers.

“When the whole family found out, her dad even bought a coffin for her. ‘That is your coffin, we are just waiting for the day you die.’  You can pass somewhere and some guy calls at you, and [his] friends are like, ‘That one is already dead,” Kemigisa laments.

Kemigisa’s father disowned her when he learned her HIV status, and she practically never sees her family. But she manages to stay upbeat, and is still full of ideas for new projects. 

Future plans

At the moment, Kemigisa is working on a reality TV show featuring young people living with HIV. She is also organizing a Miss HIV beauty pageant, to challenge stereotypes and boost girls’ confidence.

And then, of course, there is her music.

“’I dream of a city where people line up for a test, with ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs] at every drug shop, at every clinic; mothers taking the lead to save their unborn babies, and husbands supportive, with every neighbor in the fight towards an HIV-free generation," she says. "That is one of the verses for a song. I want to be the first lady to come out positive and sing about it.”

Despite her activism, Kemigisa will not be attending this month’s AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington, D.C. The reasons for that are political, she explains. But that has not stopped her from thinking big, as she dreams someday of spreading her message of hope throughout Africa, and, eventually, the world.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Video Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid