By Madeline Vaughan, Communications Manager, Adara Group
Wise beyond her years and funny beyond belief, this young comedian in the making had our team in stitches when we met her earlier this year at Kiwoko Hospital. Participating in a storytelling competition with her peers, Esther had the room captivated with her cautionary tale of the hare and the monkey.
After the competition was over (which Esther won convincingly!), we had the opportunity to meet with this young woman and learn more about her story. What we found was that beneath her bright and bubbly façade was a fierce young woman determined to speak up and change the lives of people in her community.
It is hard to believe that Esther is only 14 years old. In her short life, she has already endured and conquered so much.
She had a difficult start to life losing her mother when she was just 2 years old. She lived with her father, but was very sick as a child, constantly covered in rashes and wounds. Her father did his best to care for her, covering her in medicines from a traditional healer. But she did not get better.
When she was five her aunt paid Esther and her father a visit, and was shocked to see the little girl so unwell. She demanded that Esther come home with her, and although her father initially protested, he finally agreed it was the best thing for this little girl.
Her aunt brought Esther to the hospital, and while the doctors and nurses tried many different treatments, they could not discover a diagnosis.
It was at that time, that Esther’s aunt learned that Esther’s mother had died of HIV/AIDS. It dawned on her, that maybe Esther had contracted the disease from her mother at birth.
Her fears were confirmed with a test at Kiwoko. Esther was enrolled in the children’s clinic and was immediately admitted to the hospital for two months to recover, get her strength back, and start on the HIV treatment.
Although she hated being in hospital, Esther could not believe how much better she felt, and was able to return to school when she was discharged from the ward, and eventually, completed her Primary 7.
After completing her schooling, Esther enrolled in a tailoring course, and now works in Kiwoko town with her aunt, making clothes for the local community.
Esther is a part of the HIV teens program now, a program that caters specifically to the needs of teens, and helps them navigate the challenges of being an adolescent with HIV. Along with her peers, Esther has started doing advocacy in her community, talking about the challenges of living with HIV and encouraging people to get tested at the hospital.
But some days, the challenges are great. Just last year, Esther’s Dad passed away. She has found the loss of her only living parent very hard, and was so grateful for the support and love she received from the counsellors of Kiwoko Hospital. “The counsellors have seen me grow up. They are like family,” she said.
Esther is not alone in facing challenges. She shared with us a story of a friend of hers who was so fed up and despondent about the endlessness of the disease and the lifetime of drugs and adherence that she had just…given up. She stopped taking her medication. She got so sick and was admitted to the ward. And every day, Esther visited her, encouraged her, and finally convinced her to keep up the fight, and that her life was precious and that she could live, and live well with HIV.
It was so inspiring to hear Esther speak so passionately and bravely. There is no doubt that all those who encounter this young woman will be warmed by her big heart, witty humour and passion for her community.