My name is Laura Adema. I am 21 years old and studying for a bachelor of arts in education at Mount Kenya University. I was born HIV positive but was diagnosed only in 2006, when I was nine years old, after a series of sicknesses. I took my medication without knowing what was ailing me. My parents never disclosed my status to me, no matter how much I wanted to know why I took medication every day even when I felt OK. I got tired of taking medication and ended up hiding them instead. I did that for one month until I started having rashes all over my body and started falling sick all the time. My mother later discovered my pills in our house and that’s when she realized that I wasn’t on my medication.
When my dad realized too, he confronted me bitterly. He said I will die if I continue to not take my medication as prescribed. I never understood what he meant until one day when I was 13 and in the eighth grade, and my mother told me I was HIV positive. I was so shocked that I would begin crying uncontrollably in public. After that, my whole world changed for the worse. I isolated myself, my self-esteem went down and I couldn’t face anyone because of my HIV status. I believed the myths and misconceptions I heard from people about HIV.
My life was a living hell wherever I went. I was so lonely that at one point I thought of committing suicide because of the grief I felt at being seen as a walking corpse wherever I went. I became so withdrawn into myself that I didn’t like socializing. I was afraid of playing with my friends because I thought they would start talking bad about me. Even though I never told them about my status, I thought they would know by looking.
When I was 14 years old, I went to the clinic for my drug refill, and a health care provider suggested I join a support group in our clinic. I thought about it because I was impressed by how she explained what the support group entailed. The groups meet every month and are divided by age groups – three to 13 years, 14 to 19 years and 20 to 30 years. I was encouraged and joined the support group. This helped me realize that I was not the only one with the condition. Instead there are so many people born with the virus.
I became so vibrant in the support group that I eventually started conducting the sessions. Our clinic matron introduced me to a network of people living with HIV in Kenya (NEPHAK). Through them, I got an opportunity to attend an ALL IN meeting in Nairobi where one of the agenda items was to come up with a youth network addressing challenges faced by adolescents and young people living with HIV in Kenya. It was from that meeting that we formed our own network called “Sauti Skika”, meaning ‘amplified voices’.
Sauti Skika is a network of young people living with, affected by, and at risk of getting HIV. We conduct advocacy on the reduction of stigma and discrimination among adolescents and young people. We do this by creating awareness on social media platforms, conducting community forums and school outreach. Besides that, we lobby for funds and resources from like-minded organizations to carry out our activities. We also ensure that young people are fully and meaningfully involved in planning, budgeting and decision making on matters concerning adolescents and young people in Kisumu county, Kenya.
I became the leader in my county in Kisumu. Since then I have become more confident when talking about my HIV status by sharing my life experiences. I am doing so much better now, and it all started with the very good care and support I was able to find at my clinic.
Laura Adema is a student at Mount Kenya University where she is studying education. She has been living with HIV since birth, and has recently become a leader in the HIV movement among her peers through UNICEF’s ALL IN platform in Kenya.