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I found out my HIV status in Form two

 Phenny Awiti and her children

Phenny Awiti is a 25 year old single mother of two who is living with HIV. Despite facing rejection  from society and having to cope with the pain of a marriage that did not work out, she has boldly taken up the mantle of raising her kids and offering hope to other people. Here is her story.  

As a young girl, I always had the best dream in life just like any other person-to have a good education and start my own family when I grow up. As I faced each day, I had this one fear, and that was contracting HIV/Aids. I know it is something that many people in society dread. The thought of it gave me jitters, not knowing that one day I would be faced with the same predicament.

While in Form Two in 2008, a certain organisation visited our school for a blood donation drive. Without hesitation and knowing that my blood would save a soul somewhere, I went ahead to queue so that my blood would be drawn. Deep inside my heart, I knew I was okay health wise and nothing could stop me from taking part in this noble course. After a while, our cards were out on the blood groups and I took mine. Later that term , another organisation would visit our school to offer HIV counseling and testing. I remember they were offering sodas and bread after testing students. Who wouldn't want free soda and bread in high school life? I quickly went ahead to get tested without caring much about the outcome of the results, so long as I got my soda and bread. The pre-counseling session was done in a rush.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" That was the only question posed by the counselor. I quickly said "No". She then went on to explain about the double line and the single line and what both meant. If a double line appeared on the strip it meant that I was HIV positive whereas a single line meant that I was HIV negative. The blood was drawn and after five minutes the results came out. The counselor showed me the strip and I could clearly see a double line. "I thought you said you didn't have a boyfriend. Well, here are your results," she said.

I was terrified and shaken. How could it happen? I didn't understand the outcome of the results. I must admit that for the first time I gave up on life. After much contemplation, I went to my best friend and disclosed my status not knowing that I would later regret because the following week I was the topic of discussion all over the school. Wherever I went, from class to the library, to the fields, to the dining hall, other students would turn around to look at me while others spoke in hush hush tones about my condition.

I was completely stressed up. I didn't know whom to turn to because I already felt betrayed by my extended family. I went through the worst form of stigmatisation and almost changed schools. My best friend made it a big deal and denied having disclosed to everyone about my status.

It is during that term that I started developing opportunistic infections. I became weak and developed rashes all over my body. I remember sharing a blanket with my best friend during tuition and she quickly grabbed it from my bed claiming that I will infect her. I went through real rejection, betrayal, stigma, bitterness. I couldn't wait for schools to close.

I had to disclose my status to my extended family and they were shocked at first but later became receptive. That is when I was told that my parents were both HIV positive and that during their time they faced the worst form of stigma and ARVs were not even available. My dad passed on when I was only five years old and my mum when I was ten years. My relatives made me understand that since I was the last born, no Prevention of Mother to Child (PMTC) intervention had taken place hence the reason I became infected. It was disheartening; but I had to pick up the pieces and move on.

After high school, I would volunteer with several non-governmental organisations that ran programmes on HIV/Aids, including WOFAK (Women Fighting Aids in Kenya). I took a HIV Testing and Counselling course at Liverpool Testing and Counseling Centre and went on to pursue a Counseling Psychology course at Amani Counseling Centre. Three years ago, I worked as a Counsellor.

What one thing never fails to make you feel better?

As a woman who had desired to have a family of her own, dating became a challenge. I wanted to live a clean and transparent life hence did not intend to infect anyone. I would inform any guy who wanted to get close and perhaps have unprotected sex with me about my status. I finally met my Mr.Right and disclosed to him about my condition and he gladly accepted me as I was. I explained and made him understand how ARVs work. We lived as a discordant couple for three years and gave birth to two kids, Emmanuellah Faraja who is 2 years 5 months and Ahadi Mor who is 1 year 3 months. He never made me feel insecure because of my status. I was the one so afraid, lest I infect him.

Having sexual intercourse was a miracle at first, but with experience, a routine. This is how it went; we had protected sex on the very first date, and that was after disclosing to him about my status. He then became so selfless and courageous to start having unprotected sex with me. It is quite possible to have sex as a discordant couple through the performance of the viral load test. This is the process; the immune system contains white blood cells, and in the white blood cells is where the cd4 cells are found. The cells are used to gauge the immunity of a person and their viral load (the amount of virus in the body). The doctors performed the test on me thrice a year as it is recommended and all turned out exemplary (the virus was undetected). We had the best sex life a discordant couple would ask for; no fears especially from his side that he may get infected, and no reminder that we were a discordant couple.

However, my ex-husband would later cheat on me when our second born child was only two months and some days old. I found out he was cheating on me from his facebook account where he could frequently chat with his baby mama who had gone to work in Dubai when we started dating. She returned to the country when I was 8 months pregnant with our second child. I never knew that my ex-husband still liked his baby mama until I saw the chats. On confronting him, he dismissed the whole issue. He later started disrespecting me and even claimed that the pregnancy wasn't his. I definitely knew something was amiss.

I asked him whether he was cheating on me because of my status, but he said he would cheat on me again and again because he never loved me in the first place. I think he sincerely loved his baby mama, and not me. He told me that I should tell the kids that he was hit by a lorry hence literally, he never existed. From that instant I had to make a step and move on with my life. On the other hand, I think his ego couldn't take it that I was the one providing for the family for the three years we had been married since he had no stable income. This affected his self-esteem and he decided to cheat on me.

After this incident, I sunk into depression for eight solid months. I completely shut myself from the outside world. I changed my mobile phone numbers and emails and even changed towns from Nairobi to Mombasa. I was so bitter and deeply hurt and just wanted a fresh start. At the Coast, having gone there for the very first time, I had to sleep with my two kids in a hotel room for about three months. Luckily, I had some savings that we used during that period as I continued writing from the hotel room to the cyber. At that time, I juggled between breastfeeding my baby, writing copies and watching over my first born child as he played around. Sooner than later, I was able to afford and look for a decent house where I moved in with my kids.

After my love life and marriage failed to work, I swore to give all my attention to my children and myself, and am still stuck to that promise. Honestly, I have had both the best and worst experiences when it comes to motherhood. I was just 22 when I conceived my first child. It was unplanned, but as they say, children are a blessing from God. We did not expect our second child Ahadi, as well. Living with HIV and raising the kids on my own has been tough for me, not mentioning financial challenges.

But as an Online Writer, I have always managed to provide for my kids all by myself after my in-laws shunned me. Online writing has been so flexible, reliable and comfortable, hence allowing me to raise the kids and watch them grow. My kids are exemplary! They are both HIV negative and rarely fall sick. I couldn't ask for more.

For a person living with HIV, taking the ARVs has been the worst experience for me. At first, I would experience nausea, drowsiness, tiredness, laxity, loss of appetite, hallucinations and sleepless nights. But with time, my body got used and I have had the best regime ever. I must say that am an addict of ARVs! With my writing jobs, I work hard so that I can afford descent and healthy meals.

My biggest fear as a single mother is not being able to provide for my kids. That is why I work so tirelessly so that this would never happen. From my online writing jobs, I am able to save some cash with a sacco so as to secure their future. Whenever I am weighed down and feel like giving up, I always subscribe to the daily online Novenas and pour my heart out in this platform. I take time to pray each day and read inspirational stories like those of Asunta Wagura. That way, I am able to restore my confidence. It is never easy, but with God, things fall into place."

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