Yesterday was World AIDS Day. How many of you knew that? It was also a reminder of a journey I started just over three (3) years ago. You see, in 2009 I met an amazing lady. Beautiful, amazing, loving and HIV+. The first time we met, I was curious and cautious. By our third meeting, I was ashamed. Ashamed at myself for adding to her pain with my discriminatory attitude. I was forever changed. Last year as we hugged goodbye, she promised to attend my wedding.
In May of this year, I asked my friend to share a bit of her story with readers. No one can tell it like she can. To her it is not just a story. It is life. Here’s a bit of what my Lorna had to say…
“I am Lorna Hamilton-Henry. I am part of an unusual couple. I have three lovely, healthy children. I have been living with HIV for 15 years or so. I contracted HIV at a young age before I met my husband but only found out after a month of being married. At just the rumour of my status, my husband and I were put out from where we lived at my mother. They all thought I could give them tuberculosis if I lived in the
same space, so we were forced to leave. My husband lost everything because of my status. He lost friends and because our income was based on his trade he lost customers, so HIV took a lot from us. Our first two children were denied their right to education by being refused admission to a school close to where we lived. We then had to send them to one outside of the area. This was difficult because we could not afford it…”
“… When I go out to speak I tell people we are just that – people. People living with a disease but we have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. I tell them discrimination is a form of murder. You may not have stabbed me or shot me but the stress you induce can cause me to deteriorate and die.”
When I started the story I said Lorna was HIV+. Full-stop. Well Lorna has removed the full-stop and replaced it with a comma. She is a Christian, daughter, wife, mother and woman living with HIV. Lorna has chosen to let her status define her as an outspoken activist, champion and winner against stigma and discrimination. Her cheerful personality and loving nature forces you to stop and think before you draw away. She has used her experiences to change lives in her native Trinidad & Tobago and across the wider Caribbean. Trust me, I know. I was fortunate enough to help her write a letter to the Prime Minister several years ago.
Although the Caribbean accounts for a relatively small share of the global epidemic, its HIV prevalence among adults is about 1.0% which is higher than in all other regions outside sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS).
Recently Lorna started an NGO called Mothers2Mothers (Trinidad and Tobago). The mission of the organisation is to create an effective, sustainable model of care that provides education and support for pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV and AIDS in Trinidad and Tobago.
In Lorna’s words, “It is aimed at providing a form of support that is much needed if we are to have all babies born HIV negative by 2015. As a mother with HIV and having experienced the bad treatment at the health facilities, even though doctors and nurses are suppose to know better, I saw the need for this kind of support. I also intend to go into the health facilities, if allowed, to encourage mothers to get tested. If found HIV+ I intend to give them the support they need to take care of themselves and their babies. Mothers who are already HIV positive will get support too and can be mentor mothers so they can support others like themselves and take care of some of their financial needs”.
I urge you to read the rest of Lorna’s story My Live with HIV, here.
When you’re done, watch the video below to meet Lorna in person. To hear her voice, see her face and know she is alive, well and beautiful as always. It was filmed by Caribbean Multimedia Artist, Elspeth Duncan, a dear friend. We were working on a project for the Trinidad & Tobago Coalition on the Rights of the Child (TTCRC), headed by the wonderful Gregory Sloane-Seale (TEDx Port of Spain speaker – tell you more later!). This NGO is another precious part of my life.
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