Alphonsine Mukantwali with some of the members of the Mother Daughter Club she helps to run in her community in Rwanda
In many areas of Rwanda stigma, misunderstanding and fear still surround the topic of HIV. This lack of knowledge, and the fear of seeking help or treatment, can further spread the disease. In the rural district of Nyaruguru we are working closely with the community to address this.
Women in Rwanda still suffer higher rates of HIV infection than men. This is often due to a lack of education and the continued unequal status of women in society. Our staff are working particularly closely with women and girls to help break down the taboos of discussing sexual health, and to educate women about their sexual health rights.
We are working with communities to help set up Mother Daughter Clubs to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education, increase communication about sexual reproductive health, and carry out small income generation activities to increase independence.
Alphonsine Mukantwali is a mother who helps to run one of the 75 Mother Daughter Clubs that have been set up so far. Alphonsine is 38 years old and was born into a poor family. She dropped out of primary school at the age of 14.
“Dropping out of school was common here in our community. Schools were located far from our homes, and I was forced to stay at home to take care of my younger sisters.”
At the age of 16 she left her home, and went to Kigali to seek work as a house girl. During her stay there, she met her husband and got married at the age of 22. He died two years later, leaving her with one child. When her husband died she returned home with her daughter, having spent all her savings on her husband’s medication. On her return she struggled to provide her young daughter with the clothes, food and medicine she needed.
“Meanwhile, I started being sick every day, and I went from weighing 70 kg to 45 kg. During my sickness, I met with one of my husband’s friends who advised me to go for an HIV test, as he knew that my husband was HIV positive.”
Alphonsine had not known her husband was HIV positive, and was shocked when she discovered she was now infected.
“After getting the result of my HIV test, I got discouraged. I lost more weight than before my HIV test results, and I started feeling like my life was going to end.”
During her struggle, community health workers trained by Health Poverty Action approached her and counselled her. They reminded her that losing hope would do more harm than the virus would, and advised her to visit the health centre to get anti-retroviral drugs. She had not visited previously as she was ashamed of being HIV positive due to the stigma in her community.
After she began to receive treatment, Alphonsine started to participate in education campaigns in the community. She began to give talks, particularly to young people, teaching them to protect themselves from the infection and spread of HIV.
Her campaign work gave her confidence, but she was still struggling financially, and soon she was unable to pay her daughters’ school fees.
To combat this we helped Alphonsine set up a Mother Daughter Club with some other mothers in the area. There are now 18 members with 17 daughters, and she feels she has gained close friends who she can trust. One of the main goals of their club is to offer sex education to their daughters. Alphonsine is in charge of this, as she knows first-hand how HIV can make you suffer physically and mentally.
“I always encourage other women in a similar situation to seek early treatment, so that even in the case of conception, innocent babies are spared the agony of contracting the deadly virus. My life was not good until I got anti-retroviral drugs. I could not get food and I faced discrimination. Now I am lucky because I found friends and other children, with whom we share everything.”
Last year the club began a business of selling beans during the long dry season that runs between July and September. The business provided the families with enough profit to feed their children throughout this period, and they now have even bigger ambitions. Their new venture is a sorghum beer making business, and although they have only just begun, they already have lots of clients.
“I am getting better. Now I can get something to eat, and I can buy clothes from the Club’s shared benefits. We are also able to help our daughters to buy school materials.”
“Now I have hope for mine and my children’s future, because we are working as a team.”
Thanks to your support, and funding from the UK government, we have been able to work with incredible women like Alphonsine. These women are tackling stigmas around sexual health head on to help their communities fight for their health rights.