FOR MOST people, taking an HIV test is a very hard decision to make. It gets even harder to pick up the results once the test has been done. Yet the hardest part is coming to terms with the outcome if the test retuned positive results.
Often news of being HIV positive is received with shock and if not followed up with professional counselling, the affected persons start to imagine the end of life.
That is what happened to some women of Abishyize Hamwe Gisagara Cooperative (COABIKIGI), according to testimonies by the members. COABIKIGI brings together women living with HIV in Kibirizi Sector, Gisagara District of Southern Province.
However, after sometime and a following series of counselling sessions, the story of the 30 individuals of the cooperative is totally different from the one of six years ago. Hope seems to have replaced hopelessness and the women are living their normal lives productively.
“Anyone who learns for the first time that they are infected with HIV, a lot comes in mind and some even fail to move on with normal life. But for us, through our cooperative, we have managed to move on despite some challenges in life—which to me and many of the members believe are normal,” said Petronila Nyiransabimana, the head of the cooperative.
She says that the idea to form COABIKIGI cooperative came when, upon meeting at the hospital where they go for medication, they realised that they were from the same locality and felt the need to confront the future together.
According to Nyiransabimana, the main objective of coming together was to forge a common way forward especially after the death of their husbands, the family bread winners.
This, she says, meant finding alternative means of survival for themselves and the children especially since most of them where house wives with no source of income.
The members of COABIKIGI cooperative decided to venture into agriculture, and specifically mushroom growing.
“The beginning was so hard to the extent that some of our members were almost pulling out. But with the mercy of God, Action Aid International Rwanda came in and supported us; something that gave our activities a big boost,” she said.
Meeting demands of their respective homes, including paying for their children’s school fees and scholastic materials, was the most worrying and challenging issues, according to Nyiransabimana.
The single parent of four, who was last year awarded as the best farmer during celebrations to mark the International Day of the Village Woman, said that the cooperative has helped women living with HIV among others live a better life.
The standard of living has improved and members of the association say that there is one marketing day in a week when their harvest is sold. A kilogramme of mushroom, according to the members of the association goes for Rwf 1,600.
“As an association, we decided that after each of us has got her share, we must save to ensure that we expand our activities through acquisition of more land so as to grow more mushrooms and increase our earnings,” she said.
The group has started buying more land; and so far, two hectares of land have been acquired. The women have diversified their activities to include growing soya beans. They plan to add value to their produce by acquiring a machine that makes soya milk.
One of the things that make Nyiransabimana a happy mother is that she has managed to build a house. “I also own a mobile phone like other business women in town”
Other members say that the leadership of the cooperative has actively supported the members by giving them direction.
Christine Mukenshimana, another member says among others benefits, the association has enabled her to pay school fees for her son who she says is currently perusing a degree at the National University of Rwanda.
“The cooperative may not enable its members to get a lot of money, but they way one plans for what he or she earns matters a lot; and with me, I have been able to engage in animal husbandry to further supplement what I earn from the cooperative,” she said.
Other members say that despite the achievements, there is also need for support from development partners. They commend Action Aid for the support saying such initiatives will contribute towards fighting poverty, especially among rural women.