When I first met Asunta Wagura through a mutual friend in 2001
By - | May 19th 2013
By Joseph Ngunjiri
NAIROBI, KENYA: I met Ms Asunta Wagura through a mutual friend in 2001. She had just started KENWA (Kenya Network of Women with Aids) but was yet to go public about her status. Then, the stigma associated with HIV/Aids was massive. The friend convinced her to go public and I was the one to break the story. Then, people living with Aids were still being referred as Aids victims – the Government of retired President Moi had not yet declared Aids a national disaster.
After I spoke with Asunta, I shared my story idea with my Features Editor Okech Kendo, who decided that the story was big. Mr Joe Muriuki was the only Kenyan who had declared publicly that he had Aids.
Not only was the story treated as a cover story for the features section, it was upgraded to the front page of The Standard, complete with her picture taken by the late Blasto Ogindo.
I did the interview in our town office, then based at the mezzanine floor of Town House. Ogindo came to know of Asunta’s HIV status after the story was published. “You don’t tell me that the beautiful woman I took photos of was HIV positive,” a surprised Ogindo exclaimed when we met later. “You know, from her looks you cannot tell.”
After the story was published I lost touch with Asunta as I immersed myself in the world of books and published.
I nevertheless followed her progress in the media, including when she started writing a column in the Saturday Standard, which I never missed reading. Our paths crossed more than 10 years later when she released her autobiography, From Heartbreak to Daybreak: My Journey with HIV. As a book reviewer I was naturally interested in the book.
It is when I went to interview her regarding the book that she filled me in on what transpired after my story was published. Following the publicity, donors came to her aid and started funding her project, and she was able implement her programme that focused on assisting others living with the disease.
However, there was a downside. Courtesy of her picture appearing so prominently in the papers, she was now well known, even to people still harbouring prejudices. One of them was a man, in Murang’a, with rental houses. Asunta wanted to rent space to accommodate Aids orphans she was taking care of. After their initial discussions the man came back waving a copy of The Standard.
“Aren’t you the one appearing in this paper?” the man asked. “There is no way I am letting you stay in any of my houses.” Much later, the man underwent a change of heart - he needed the money. He came begging Asunta to rent his houses. “I told him I no longer needed his houses,” she said.
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