Jean Paul, whose HIV positive status was unknown to his wife to-be, got married in March 1995, to 21-year old Rosemary Gakuba. Eleven months later, her husband poisoned himself and died. Mrs Gakuba was left widowed and HIV positive.
“I was angry and upset when I found out. I want to spread the message so that people can avoid going through what I have,” she said.
At the time Ms Gakuba admits that she didn’t know anything about HIV/Aids. But over the last 12 years, she has fought tirelessly to reach out to people across Rwanda with the help of NGO World Relief, telling them about HIV/Aids.
Although a recent study found that the number of infected cases in Rwanda is significantly lower than previous estimations, according to the recent report by the centre for training and research, there is still much to do.
UNAIDS, the Rwandan government and other international organisations found that there are about 3 per cent of people infected in the country.
It is clear that an effort, including initiatives for the next coming CHOGM meeting (Commonwealth of Nations) where even Rwanda was invited, are top agendas for many countries.
The Commonwealth Youth Programme needs to continue to help combat HIV/Aids in countries such as Rwanda, where women and children account for a growing proportion of those infected and where there is still widespread stigma and misconception about the pandemic.
The CYP empowers young people in the Commonwealth’s 53 member countries to target issues like HIV/Aids. Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors are taught accurate information and trained to communicate with young people so that knowledge is improved. And if Rwanda joins it will be like a God-given chance also to be represented.
“The fight against HIV/Aids and breaking the chain of its transmission will be won by targeting young people,” says Joseph Mugabo, programme manager for youth development in Kacyiru.
Rwanda’s own Private Sector Coalition against Aids is the first women’s initiative, formed in 2001. It contributes to national and regional efforts for the prevention and care of youth, children and families infected and affected by HIV/Aids.
And if the CYP is added to the already exciting programmes fighting the dreaded disease, it is a boost to Rwanda. Ms Gakuba is an example of many other women who are Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors who are determined to increase global understanding on the subject.
There are four Commonwealth regional centres around the world, based in Zambia, India, Guyana and the Solomon Islands, all generating or looking into programmes to fight HIV/Aids.
Kacyiru health centre is one of the places where the family package program was first launched. The program is the logical step in improving quality life, promoting family stability, economic independence and protecting children.
The program was developed to extend basic care and support to parents living with HIV/Aids and their children. Joseph Mugabo argues that the programme has played an important role in community mobilisation and activities.
“Many people can’t read and therefore leaflets are mainly useless. They need something visual to understand the dangers which can lead to contracting HIV/Aids.”
These people were not left out; PACFA organised live performances to elaborate more on there campaign. Doctors provide advice regarding the content in the scripts and often attend the performances, so they can even answer questions raised after the production.
Another method adopted to increase knowledge is when a ‘magic box’ is placed in schools around other east African countries. Any students who have questions on HIV/AIDS can write and then place their concerns in the box, protecting anonymity.
At the end of each week a Youth Ambassador or representative, accompanied by a doctor or a nurse at the school, answers all of the questions in front of the entire school.
These are a few examples of the efforts being made around in some African countries including East African countries to eradicate ignorance concerning HIV/Aids.
PACFA was well aware that often young people cannot get accurate information from their peers or family; that’s why PACFA has introduced parent-and-children discussions where different aspects of the virus are spoken about in a candid, but comforting manner.
“No serious effort against the HIV/Aids pandemic can afford to exclude young people, whose increased understanding will lead to effective change,” the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has stated.