Kkingo Subcounty, Uganda
When HIV and AIDS came to my community, it hit my life very hard. My two parents died from AIDS, and most of my brothers and sisters. In my own family, my husband died, and I also lost two children to AIDS – Jane Nakalema who died at 24 years, and Keteregga Francis, who died at 20 years. My three other children are living with HIV and AIDS. I was left by myself, caring for the children— and grandchildren—in my home.
When all this sickness and death started to happen in my family, organizations like Kitovu Mobile didn’t exist. There was nowhere to go to get support. I was all on my own trying to help everyone. I strained myself to get the medication, to go to hospitals, and to get food supplements to feed the sick and the rest of the family. There was such poverty in my family then. I lost the support from my parents, husband, brothers and sisters. The expenses were so high and so much of my time was spent caring for the sick. We couldn’t farm the way we did before. The gardens became bushes, and there was less and less food. The education of my children and grandchildren was affected.
And for me too, my own welfare was not good. I was so stressed and lost hope. It harmed my dignity to have to ask for loans from other people. I was losing so much weight and couldn’t take care of myself, so people started looking at me as if I had HIV and AIDS. The feelings and the stigma were so bad, and I lost my friends and started keeping alone to myself.
In 2011, when Kitovu Mobile started helping us grandmothers, that is when things in my life began to change. The children are now back in school because I could make enough money from the crops to pay for the school costs. It feels so good to be able to give my grandchildren the simple things that are so hard to come by for grandmothers—uniforms, shoes, and enough food so they can have lunch at school.
My grandchildren needed special grief counselling, and I had help communicating to the girls how to prepare for their menstrual period, and support to talk to my adolescent grandchildren about building relationships and the reality of growing up in a community struggling with HIV and AIDS.
Kitovu Mobile also helped me get a good house for the family. The old house we were living in was in very bad shape. The door had collapsed, it was leaking and too cold. When it rained we had to stand on the veranda to keep dry. And it was not safe, the old house. The new house is so smart, and the compound is nice, with a whole garden full of greens. Thanks goes to God, there is an iron roof, and doors and windows, and everything is painted.
We had so much trouble when the house was being built, though, from the in-laws, the grandsons of my late husband. They came and said to me “You, grandma, you are not supposed to build here. You go and build somewhere else.” At first they tried to sell the land. They were pressuring me to stop building the house, so I went to the local leaders who intervened to try to save the situation. They gave me a letter to give to the resident district commissioner. It said to stop anyone who wanted to chase me from my land.
After the house was built, the in-laws came back and started separating the land, putting plants down as markers to show that all I was left, apart from the house, was a little part of land. They told me to stop encroaching on their land and to pay them rent. They said “You’re a grandmother, you are only left with your grave, and the house the organization built for you, you have nothing here.” At one time they came after us with machetes, and wanted to cut down all the trees in our compound, the mangos and the jack fruit trees. But one of my sons joined with our neighbours and fought them off.
About four times, my in-laws threatened that they were going to kill me. I reported them to the police. The police asked for 10,000 shillings for transport facilitation to arrest the boys, but I only managed to raise 6,000, which I gave them. They took the money but did not act because I failed to raise the full amount. So then I went to the prison officer and got a letter from him to give to the local leaders and the boys. It warned them to stop any kind of violence to me, otherwise they would be imprisoned. At present, my relatives are not doing anything, although they told me they are waiting for me to die and then they will come take the land.
I still worry about the land and wait for what will come next. But for now, things are better. The children are fed and they are going to school. The health of my family is much better. Kitovu Mobile is counselling the children living with HIV to live positively, and at times they can help with some cash to pay for transport to go collect medicines, and help with food supplements. One of my daughters is also getting free ARVs from Uganda Cares.
But Kitovu Mobile doesn’t have resources to help all the grandmothers, and for them transport to hospital still costs too much, and it is hard to get treated quickly. They suffer from hopelessness and loneliness—they’re isolated because of the stigma. They don’t know about nutrition and sanitation, and how to generate some income for themselves. They have problems with bad houses, and their grandchildren are not getting good educations. So many grandmothers are having land problems, and relatives are even taking their animals and selling them. Even in my solidarity group, two grandmothers have had their land grabbed.
That is why I am doing my voluntary work. I started when I joined Kitovu Mobile. They trained me as a contact granny and gave me the knowledge and skills to help others. I offer the grandmothers counselling and teach them about nutrition, hygiene, to keep in solidarity and dignity as grannies, and be hopeful. And I accompany the sick to the health facility. I love the work of helping fellow grannies. I feel it has become part of my life and I love it.