My job is not an easy one! But I try. Many of my clients are in their early teenage years. Some of them are very withdrawn – after being told they are HIV positive they can feel helpless, like they’re stuck in a shell.
When they first come to Eve for Life, many don’t want to associate with anyone; and others are angry. After a while and some visits they come to terms with their situation and make friends with one another. Eventually they come out of their shell and suddenly you can see this lightness in them.
Whenever they have issues I tell them to look at me: I have been HIV positive for 17 years and I am still here, I am still living my life. Sometimes they’re astonished to look at me but the longer and closer we become they are able to see that you can live healthily in spite of your HIV status.
Teaching them to live again
I just have a passion to make sure that these girls walk in the right direction. To them I am Aunty Jerieta. My work as Liaison Officer involves a lot of house visits. I have clients who have newborn babies and cannot take care of them so I make visits to show them how. Some don’t have the first idea of how to care for their babies so I to show them. There are times when I even clean their houses, do their laundry and cook for them.
I also have to take many of them to hospital – sometimes they don’t know their viral load and CD4 cell count and or sometimes they will – lie about going to get their check-ups. And don’t ask questions Basically, I must be there at every stage whether it’s to remind them to take their medication, practice safe sex, or provide encouragement and advice. I always meet with them when they need me.
Each of my clients is special to me
I also take the orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV (OVCs) to the pediatric clinics to ensure that they too, remain healthy.
The greatest challenge is sometimes I might have an emergency but then another client needs me. It can be something as small as not having lunch money, but it’s important to try. This is their life; and living with HIV is something we share.
Each of my clients is special to me, like they are a part of me. But there is one that I will always miss:
She was eight months pregnant when murdered
Shuana-Kay was eight months pregnant, just a few days away from delivery when she was shot twice in the head. She had been doing very well in the program – she had a juice business. I believe that people know who committed the crime but are afraid to talk but don’t because the community is so violent nobody wants to take the risk.
I used to visit her three times a week and call her each day. To me she was special. There were times when she would disappear and I would have to search the streets, the hospitals and the marketplace for he. I would not give up until I found her. All the girls are special to me and I want them to know that they are all special. I want to see them happy, and cared for. I tell them that this world is not going anywhere, they are here and they can live but they must take their meds and they can still go on to do what they dream of doing or becoming.
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) July 28, 2017
I was angry and afraid, until Eve for Life
Many of the girls have no income and this creates many difficulties for them. Eve for Life makes care packages available to the most needy as the organization does not have the resources to meet the needs of everyone.
More and more girls with HIV come into the health care system – I have a long list from the hospital and most are expectant mothers. But it gives me the passion just to do more.
I am proud to be a part of such a powerful women’s organization and hope that it will be around for many, many years to come to help these girls. They are where I was – I was angry, I was afraid. But Eve for Life is a safe space to help and for them to learn how to be healthy and happy – that is why we can say ‘I Am Alive!’
A liaison officer for Eve for Life, which is supported by UNICEF, their recently concluded three-year ‘I Am Alive’ programme helped to improve the lives of adolescent girls living with HIV in Western Jamaica.