Irene* is petite, with almond-shaped eyes and a brillant smile. She is married with one child and an eighth grade education. Irène is HIV-epositive. These facts alone are enough to make her story brave, exceptional. Many women in northern Cameroon are told than an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence and are rejected by their families.
In 2006, Irène connected with EFA International, where she met with other HIV-positive individuals and learned how to stay healthy and live positively. She underwent EFA’s comprehensive 6-month peer education training and now teaches her village about the importance of HIV prevention. That they can protect their children and families from the scourges of AIDS in a country where one in 20 adults has HIV. That they too can defy stigma and face an ominous diagnosis to manage what has become chronic disease: requiring daily awareness, discipline, and resources, but something that does not keep them from following and fulfilling their dreams.
Then I learned that Irène was suffering from a uterine tumor. The unmonitored tumor had grown to such extent that she could feel its presence by pressing on her abdomen. If Irène was not operated on immediately,then she would not survive. She did not have the money to receive the operation. Could we step in to save the life of a woman in whom we had invested so much, and who had given so much in return?
Some colleagues warned that if EFA officially stepped in, it would open a floodgate of medical requests. Most of EFA’s youth empowerment network members do not have the luxury of insurance or extra income to cover health emergencies and rely on family and friends. But I could not stop thinking about Irène’s smile, her energy and willingness to give back to something greater.
A week passed. I received an update from EFA’s regional office. Irène’s community, family and friends had collected the money she needed for the operation. EFA saved Irène because its programs had empowered her. Her village valued the hope and knowledge that Irene was giving to young people. Irène is more than her HIV status. She is a change agent within her community.
Unfortunately, we cannot pay the hospital bills of each individual. Our Circle of Love project has just been launched on GlobalGiving to fill financial gaps so HIV-positive individuals can afford medical tests. But EFA's peer education empowers HIV-positive individuals to mobilize and know how, when, and where to seek medical care. By staying healthy and practice safe behaviors, they are less likely to transmit HIV within their communities. This positive prevention is one of EFA’s core values.
* Name has been changed to protect individual’s privacy.
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EFA Country Representative