Profile : Stigma greatly hinders positive living

Claire Gasamagera is the President of Kigali Hope Association that advocates for youth living with HIV. At 27 years, she dreams of a day when she will see an HIV free generation.
Claire Gasamagera
Claire Gasamagera

Claire Gasamagera is the President of Kigali Hope Association that advocates for youth living with HIV. At 27 years, she dreams of a day when she will see an HIV free generation.

She was born on June 8, 1983 and contracted HIV at birth. Her parents discovered that she was infected at the age of five year, the same year her mother passed away.

Gasamagera ‘s father re-married but passed away when she was 14 years and her step-mother took on the responsibility of taking care of her alongside her three sisters.

At the age of 17 years, Gasamagera‘s step mother also died and she had to raise herself and her three siblings since they had no close relatives.

She became sick all the time but with the help of  Anti-Retro Viral (ARVs) medication, she was able to attend EPA Primary School and Lycee Notre Dame de Citeau for her O’ and A’ Level .

“I attained a Bachelors Degree in Food Science at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology although I was denied the chance to pursue Medicine which was my dream profession. I had scored highly in my senior six final exams and was granted a scholarship but my status, I was disqualified,” Gasamagera solemnly narrates.

Throughout the interview Gasamagera would break down and cry especially in moments when she disclosed the injustices levied upon her because of being HIV positive.

“When I graduated in 2007, the medical staff organized a party for me since I was the first child born with HIV to graduate. I will never forget that day because I was so beautiful and it will always be one of the happiest days of my life,” she cheerfully said.

When Gasamagera started job hunting after her graduation, she was bewildered at the injustices the World had to offer to people living with HIV. Even though she passed job interviews, she was always denied the job because of her status.

“I was told that someone with my status could not handle the tasks required. I tried to explain to that I was strong and able to so any job, but it was all in vain,” she said.

One employer openly told her that they would lose their clients if they found out that one of the staff members was HIV positive.

“That is when I accepted my fate, so I switched from my field of study opted to work in social services,” Gasamagera said.

Gasamagera most disappointing day was when she was turned down at a job interview for Advocacy Programme Officer for people living with HIV.

“I was told I could not get the job with 0.5 marks less. This was unbearable since the people who were supposed to fight for my rights had turned me down,” she said.

She broke down and cried.

However, it was not until she met the Executive Secretary of National AIDS Control Commission (CNLS), Dr. Anita Asiimwe, that her grievances begun to fade away.

Gasamagera was encouraged to attain documents and write project proposals for an association that would advocate people living with HIV.

“I was told that I was lucky and intelligent and that someone with my skills would make a difference in the lives of many,” Gasamagera said.

Gasamagera has an extraordinary self-esteem; she looks at the brighter side of life and is willing to pursue great things.
“Through the organization, youth living with HIV air out their voices,” Gasamagera said.

“There are several measures and plans required besides teaching the youth how to use a condom or anti-viral medication. Young people behave and think differently and they are scared of disclosing their HIV status because the dangers that comes with stigma,” she said.

Through several programmes by the Kigali Hope Association, youth have been sensitized.

“The people who are not infected should support us so that we can protect them hence reduce the HIV prevalence,” she said.

With such plans, the organization was able to win an award during the 2010 Pediatric AIDS conference.

“Although I failed to get a job till now because of my status, I would like to acknowledge Dr. Bernard Kabayiza since he has helped me a lot regardless being my personal doctor. I have learnt a lot most especially in communication skills. I would like to inform people that we can also perform irrespective of our status.” Gasamagera stressed

Regarding her relationship aspect, Gasamagera said: “I would like to get married to someone living with HIV just like me who needs my support. I wish it happens before I clock 30 years. I really need a companion since I have gone through a lot. I believe that there is more to life and finding someone to spend the rest of my life with is one of the goals I have to achieve.”

Her favorites

Dish:  -Vegetable and fruits
Sport:   - Walking
Music:   - Slow Music
Artist:   - Frederic François 
Car:   - Land cruiser V8
Colour:   - Green because it presents prosperity
Personality:  - My dad and children as well since they are angels on earth
Quote:   - ‘I will make it because God is in control’