Listening to the voices of people living with HIV sharing and amplifying their aspirations and unmet needs, you realize that accepting to live a positive life is an important step to make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives.
Although there is certainly tragedy and hardship throughout their stories, all is not doom and gloom.
As we move close to the World Aids day on 1st December 2022, Auma Hellen Akwong a victim of Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, narrates her traumatizing yet inspiring ordeal of how she was ripped down, raped and infected with HIV by Kony rebels but has managed to live past her dark days.
Life in abduction
On 13th March 1991 while at Ngetta National Teachers College in Lira, after a deadly attack that left some students dead, Hellen was abducted alongside other 12 female students by the LRA rebels.
After days of moving in scary forests mountains and thorny fields they camped in a place where she recalls looked strange with guards and active children who were being trained in combat skills. They had arrived in Joseph Kony’s camp.
Hellen cuts her story short but it is vivid by her facial expression, that it was a spirit breaking moment as she re-counts how they (the 12 abducted girls) were paraded and each forcefully handed over to their-to be husbands.
Life in the hands of their captors was horrifying and as days went on some abductees could not stand the pain and started to escape. Hellen remembers a night when one of the boys tried to escape and was captured. The following morning, the boy was murdered in cold blood in front of all of abductees to learn a lesson.
After several attempts to escape had failed, Hellen together with her fellow abductees were weirdly released after close to a year by the rebel leader who gave them pardon due to the discipline they had exhibited.
However, this publication has established that it was a norm for Kony to release women when they planned deadly attacks, when they were shifting to long distance camps and when they lacked enough supplies of food. Asked whether this could have been one of the circumstances under which she was released, Hellen said all she cared about was the fact that she was set free and had no time to waste other than running several miles back home.
On return, she was able to proceed with her studies and graduated with a diploma in Business Education at Ngetta NTC where she and her fellow abductees were welcomed by other fellow students and teachers who confessed that they thought that the 12 girls were probably dead.
The scar: Hellen discovers she is HIV Positive in the eve of her wedding
After College, Hellen found the love of her life in Mr. Akwong Jannan Wilson and preparations for their wedding were underway.
As a young and God-fearing couple, they were required by their church to undergo HIV screening before they would proceed with their wedding preparations. However, the young couple had no idea about what was a head of their promising future.
“The church administration required us to take an HIV test and submit the results before giving us a go ahead for the wedding,” Hellen narrated.
Arrangements for the HIV tests were made with the Joint Clinic Research Centre (JCRC). They went together and had earlier agreed that her fiancé (Wilson) should be the one to pick the results.
However, the results were not good and misery engulfed the new couple. They both tested HIV positive few days to their wedding day but the husband to be (Wilson) insisted that nothing should stop the wedding preparations.
“My husband told me the results were not good, we were HIV positive. However, he insisted that the circumstance should not affect the preparations of the wedding. My husband demonstrated not just strength but love…” Hellen stated.
The results awakened the memories of abduction and rape but still Hellen was not sure whether it’s where she contracted the virus. Wilson kept his promise and the couple officially wedded in church despite the misery that surrounded them.
Back then, the HIV/AIDS treatment was quite expensive and health facilities that had medicines were not easily accessed. The only option they had as a couple was to turn to God for help and indeed it paid off.
The story will continue tomorrow.