When she was diagonised with HIV about four years ago, Agnes Mukantabana thought it was the end of the road.
That day, the 48-year-old mother of two had volunteered to go for an HIV test. In her heart, she felt safe and feared nothing.
“I was healthy and oblivious to the fact that I was carrying the virus,” she said.
“But as authorities kept encouraging us to go for voluntary testing, I decided to go and test to know my status, only to test HIV-positive,” she adds.
“I felt devastated but had to accept the situation and move on,” the resident of the remote Buvumo Cell in the rural Mukura Sector in Huye District says.
But while Mukantabana was ‘lucky’ to be accepted and supported to cope with her condition, not all who tested HIV-positive received the same support.
Beata Nyirakamana, 39, was stigmatised and psychologically tortured by her relatives–something she says left her traumatised.
In 2006, after spending several days in hospital without any sign of recovery, Nyirakamana’s husband was diagnosed with HIV and was subsequently put on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
However , when Nyirakamana was also tested, results turned negative.
But, unexpectedly, the biggest blow to her didn’t come with the results but rather with the rejection and insults from some close family members.
“Some blatantly accused me of poisoning my husband. They ignored medical reports and directed their anger against me,” Nyirakamana says.
But, against all odds, Nyirakamana kept looking after her husband until he felt better and was discharged. Today, they still live together in Huye’s Mukura Sector.
The two women, however, face the challenge of coping with a distressing health condition. But they are both leading normal lives.
Along with other 35 HIV-positive individuals, Mukantabana and Nyirakamana are now working to improve their living conditions and are helping raise awareness on HIV/Aids within their community through a cooperative called Abadacogora.
The cooperative, whose membership includes three HIV-negative individuals, is engaged with spreading anti- HIV/Aids messages within the community and improving the welfare of members.
“The fight against HIV/Aids requires concerted effort,” observes Maria Mukamana, an HIV-negative member of the cooperative.
“I decided to join the cooperative because I wanted to contribute toward their cause and help put across a message within the community that the fight against HIV/Aids is a shared responsibility,” Mukamana adds.
Its members are mainly farmers growing maize and potatoes on a plot of two hectares.
Their goal is to prove to the world that contracting HIV is not a death sentence.
Every season, the coop harvests over three tonnes of maize from their land.
“My children are able to get regular balanced diet. None of them is malnourished. Besides, being part of the cooperative makes me able to meet my basic needs,” says Audile Nizigiyimina, a 42-year –old mother of five and one of the coop members.
“We share ideas and experience on maintaining proper practices to avoid putting our lives at risk. We also console each other and help raise our morale when it is down,” says Alexis Rucyahana, 67.
“When I am in the company of others, I feel relieved from the pain and stress of feeling that I am living with HIV,” Mukantabana says.
For members of Abadacogora, the gains so far registered in the transformation of their lives give them hope for a brighter future.
“Even with HIV, I can work, realise enough output, contribute significantly toward the welfare of the community and lead a normal life,” says Jacqueline Nyirampezeho, 50.
“It only requires one to accept their situation, understand that life must go on and work hard to maintain proper attitudes and a positive lifestyle,” Nyirampezeho says.