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Healing HIV-Positive Women
By Florence Ntakarutimana

Frequently the most compelling comments are found in original reports. In Burundi and Rwanda AGLI is developing a specific Healing and Rebuilding Our Community workshop for HIV-positive women. Since the traumatic experiences of the HIV-positive women, rather than being over, will more than likely increase in the future, these workshops will need to be different than the current one developed to deal with the trauma of war. Issues of living with HIV/AIDS need to be included. To develop this workshop, HROC-Burundi invited twenty HIV-positive women to three workshops. The first was a basic AVP workshop, the second an HROC workshop, and the third an HIV/AIDS workshop. Below, with some light editing, I have reproduced the reports of these three workshops. HROC-Burundi and HROC-Rwanda are now in the process of developing this new HROC-HIV positive workshop and will soon be conducting trial workshops. David Zarembka, AGLI Coordinator

Basic AVP Workshop with HIV Positive Women
Twenty women were invited, but only nineteen finished the workshop because one of them got sick at the second day. At the first day, they were not very open to share their experiences of life, but as we moved on with the workshop, they started to manifest their joy and how they were pleased by the workshop. Here is what they testified:

-First of all, I am thankful to be invited in this workshop. It is very different form other workshops and seminaries I have attended. When I got the invitation, I asked Felicite how much money I will receive each day and she told me that there is no stipend. I told to myself: let me go for one day to see what they are doing. Surprisingly, I had been very pleased by the teachings. Instead of the one day I was planning to participate, I wished even to continue for a week. My dear friends, I am honest, after these three days with you, I discovered that the thinking of money was a poor thinking. I gained how to resolve conflicts without using violence. It helps me so much because at home I find myself almost always in conflicts with my neighbors. Now I am ready to let the transforming power work within me and many things will change.

-When I knew that I had AIDS, I became so violent before my husband and children. The” I message” was far from me. I was blaming my husband and accusing him to bring the HIV in the family. I could even insult him in front of our children. But now I am ready to use the transforming power within myself in talking to my husband so that we may work for the future. We had stopped doing projects for life, we were drinking and eating, telling to ourselves that tomorrow we will die.

- I am so pleased to attend this AVP workshop. It gave me more insights about how to help people in complicated times and conflicts. I went back into my life and found that I had been violent without knowing. I liked much the topic of transforming power. The “I message” is for me a constructive way of communication that I will be using in my daily life and work. I saw also that violence can bring trauma. I found that AVP workshop and HROC workshops are complementary. I am lucky to attend it as HROC facilitator and worker.

Also, to be with these women pleased me so much. They need love, and compassion. It is as if they had no hope and no friends. But at the end of the workshop, you could read joy and trust in their eyes. When we separated every body was laughing and we had hope of meeting again for the next HROC workshop.

HROC Workshop with HIV Positive Women
The women who participated in the last AVP basic workshop in Magarama are the same women who participated in this HROC workshop. Three of them were sick and did not come. They were so excited to meet again one month after the AVP workshop. From the beginning of the workshop, they were very open to share their experiences of their lives in their sickness, and each one who gave his testimony encouraged and conforted others. Felicite Niyonzima, Chantal and Cassilde who have been open in giving their testimonies from the beginning of the workshop in giving their testimonies helped others to be open.

-When I learned about Johari’s window, I saw that there is something I know about myself that others don’t know: the HIV/AIDS I live with. When I realized that I had HIV five years ago, it was not easy for me to accept that traumatizing situation. I hated life and planned for suicide. But I felt sorry for my children who would stay orphans, and I stopped suicide. Many things changed in me because of this workshop: Before, I could not be with and talk to others; I was thinking that everyone hates me because I am sick; and many times in our culture, somebody who is suffering from AIDS is abandoned. To see loving and kind people like you who take care of HIV positive people is rare. Really I can say that you had been my doctors. Now I feel happy, and to be with others pleased me so much. The time of sharing our experiences healed me because I saw that there are others who have the same problem as me, and I learned from them that I have to consult a doctor.

-I had attended many workshops about AIDS but I had said that I will never attend any workshop because I was not interested by the teachings given. The intention of many was to gain money using our sickness; that is too bad. I am surprised by how this workshop is very interesting. The last AVP workshop was good but this HROC workshop is very special. It is a healing workshop. You know that in our culture it is shameful to say that you have AIDS. But the time of sharing our experiences healed me. Now, I believe that to talk heals.

- I liked very much the topic about the tree of trust and the tree of mistrust. Before this workshop, I was like a tree of mistrust because when my husband and I knew that we had AIDS (we were married young) we decided to not have a child; and in our culture, when you don’t have a child, you are blamed. Our neighbors stopped relationships with us because of our sickness. I had no friend. Sometimes my husband and I used to blame each other, accusing each other to be the one who brought the sickness. That is really traumatizing. Now I feel something like a great burden falling down. I can underline that the methodology you used contributed much in my healing: there was a lot of fun and relaxations. You did not stand before us and give us much notes as others do in the seminars I attended; each one participated in giving ideas. I have much to say but I am limited by the time. In few words, know that I got healed from my trauma because of this workshop.

-My husband died of AIDS and I stayed with my five children. To feed them became so hard to me. One day, one of my children was confused by the situation and told me that it would be better for me to die because I am useless to them. I got angry and threw a knife at him. He ran out and the knife did not touch him. From that day, that child is no longer at home, he lives with his grand-mother. Since that day, I started to feel bad and many times I judged myself that I was going to kill my own child because of anger. That traumatized me so much. Sometimes I could not sleep, other times I have bad dreams. I asked him for forgiveness but I don’t believe him when he tells me that he forgives me, I keep feeling guilty. That would not happen if I had already attended a workshop like this. Yes, the workshop helps me so much but I still need a follow-up.

HIV/AIDS Workshop with HIV Positive Women

Everyone was eagerly waiting for the workshop. Participants were hugging each other in happiness and everyone was on time. The workshop was done in the techniques and methodology of HROC workshops with fun and relaxations as well, and we inserted the lessons about AIDS. Here is the summary of what we did each day:

Day one
We started by song and prayer as usual and a devotional time. After welcoming each other and knowing the objective of the workshop, we set up the ground rules. We took time to share how they put into practice what they had learned in the HROC workshop; what were the results. The people said that they are living a new life; a life of reconciliation and peace. They gave many testimonies. In the afternoon, we focused on the introduction to AIDS, where we were told what is HIV, AIDS and the statistics in the last three years.

For the second day,
We dealt with where the viruses of AIDS is found: in the blood, urine, and secretions. We learned how one becomes contaminated by the HIV/AIDS. The facilitator told us also the importance of consulting a doctor whether you are sick already or not. After that subject, many gave their testimonies of how they knew that they are sick and how they now live with the sickness. We took a time of listening to them and here is what they told us:

-Cassilde: I did a blood test because my husband died sick and he died weighing 40Kg [88 pounds]. When the doctor told me that I am sick, it was not easy for me to accept it. It was beyond understanding. But I finished by accepting it and now I take medicines at a regular time as the doctor told me now I am ok. But HROC contributed much in the good life I have now.

-Therese: I and my husband are suffering from AIDS as I told you in the last workshop. To accept ourselves was hard. Now we take medicines as the doctor told us and we use condoms when we do the sexual relationships.

-Felicite: I did the blood test after the death of my husband. Because I follow the advice of the doctor, I am ok as others. Many guys used to ask me to marry them and when I tell them that I am sick they don’t believe me. They think that it is to refuse them. I feel sorry for those who still have fear of doing the blood test. They are killing themselves. Many of them are contaminating others. It is too bad; let’s stand up and help others to know how their life is.

-Chantal: My husband died of AIDS but he did not tell me that. I did the blood test because I was suffering from different sicknesses at the same time. When I started to take medicines, my body reacted badly to them. The doctor changed the medicines and now I am ok. I advise those who still have fear to do the blood test to change.

After many other testimonies of those who are sick, the participants who don’t know that they are sick or not because they have not yet do the blood test said that now, they are going to do it next week for the good of their life. I let them know that Chantal is the one who does the blood test in Gitega hospital. She promised to welcome them and to keep confidentiality.

In the afternoon, we dealt with how a person can live well with the HIV (which included to do the blood test, to consult the doctor regularly and to take medicines). Some advice was given to people who give themselves medicines or who do not follow the advice of the doctors. We also presented other disciplines: to take rest, to eat adequately, the use of condoms for the couples already sick and for the protection of the partner who does not know because he has not yet taken the test.

A facilitator brought condoms (female and male) and told us how to use them. For many participants, it was the first time to see female condoms.

Day Three
This day was dedicated to trust building. I liked much how Emile did this. He showed how HIV/AIDS positive people were treated in prior years. In the past: such persons were devalued, set apart and blamed. There was no medicine, there was no long life for the sick people. There was no effort to help them. He showed what is done in the present time: there are Associations to support sick people, there are medicines for long life of sick people, children may be born safe from a sick mother, the sick people are valued, they can work in offices as others. He said that things will continue to be better in the future. If God wants, the medicines to heal may be found.

We finished with a look at sick people in the community. We said that such people can use their wounds to comfort others, to serve many, to be useful and important. The participants thanked so much those who started and funded this program and wished it to continue.

I was honored to be with these women all three times. I learned much from them—like patience. Thank you for the project and the support. We really had a good time in Gitega.

Florence Ntakarutimana is the HROC training manager in Burundi and has taken on the responsibility of developing the HROC workshop for HIV positive women.