Phenny Awiti is a tough Luo lady from Karachuonyo Kobuya staying in Kisumu who has undergone all odds to come out publicly and disclose her HIV status and be part of the few HIV ambassadors standing firm for those living with the virus. Having known that she was positive only after she joined Nyanza’s Asumbi Girls High School, the mother of two is now a brave victim making those like her feel still part of the society through social empowerment.
We caught up with Phenny and she exclusively revealed to the Kisumu Insyder about her journey right form when she realized she had the virus until the time she now became a darling of the society from the awareness campaigns she’s managed to take part in.
When she joined Asumbi Girls in 2007, Phenny lived like the rest and never thought of living with the virus. All she remembers is that she used to be sickly but to her, it was common illness for growing kids.
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At form two first term in 2008, her love for food one day led her to go and donate blood and of course be gifted some soda and snacks which by then was her main reason to take part in the donation. This successfully happened and nobody came back to her asking questions. She knew all was well.
Later the same year in third term, another organization came to their school and this time it was not about blood donation, they were testing for HIV and giving counselling to the students. “I never had an active sexual life therefore I didn’t have a second thought of being tested. Now that this group was giving us bread and soda, I was among the first to be tested for the virus as I was sure nothing was wrong with my health. All I needed was the soda and bread” Phenny told us during the interview
“Are you able to interpret your results? Do you have a boyfriend?” Those were the questions she remembers being asked after the test. Now that she’d learnt how to interpret HIV results, she thought there might have been a problem with the testing. The results read positive.!
“I left the room so worked up. I looked like everyone had betrayed me. I felt all alone. The world instantly became so small. I talked to my best friend about it and she promised to be there for me” Phenny said after realizing she was living with the virus. The friend she spoke to however ditched the 2 year old friendship 4 days after she learnt that Phenny was positive.
After her best friend dumping her, the following day the whole school had known that she had tested HIV positive and this was her turning point of her normal high school life. She was torn apart and received the worst stigma and depression anybody would think of.
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“That’s when I called my family to ask questions because I didn’t understand anything regarding being infected with the virus. What they told me is what gave me hope to survive the trauma I was going through at Asumbi” Phenny recalls. Her family revealed to her that she was born positive and that they just never knew how to tell her for they didn’t know what would become of her.
Born in a family of 6, 25 year old Phenny is the last born and the only one infected the family. After losing her parents at an early age, the rest of her siblings didn’t know how to disclose her status. She revealed that some were also not aware.
The mother of two beautiful daughters says that it took her close to 3 years to be able to adjust to her new condition. “Though in denial, I now had to start taking meds and promised myself to keep it real out there after officially being diagnosed in 2009” she says.
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“I met quite a number of guys after my high school and having promised myself to be real to avoid re-infection, I kept telling them my condition and status. Some accepted me some vanished after I told them my status” Phenny remembers. It’s from these men that she found a man she says stole her heart and together they had two children. None of them became positive as she adhered well to her drugs, ate well and therefore the viral load [amount of virus in her body] got suppressed.
She however walked out of the relationship after discovering that her baby daddy was not faithful for to Phenny, that was an avenue for further re-infections and contractions of other STDs. So she voluntarily ended the relationship to focus on her two daughters, Emmanuela Faraja [2yr 6months] and Ahadi Mor [1yr 4months]
Currently, apart from online writing that pays her bills, Phenny has been a volunteer with the Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya [WOFAK] for 2 years having done a Counselling Psychology Course at the Amani Counselling Centre and also pursued HIV Testing and Counselling at the Liverpool Voluntary Centre. All these have made her understand HIV in depth and create awareness to those infected & affected.
In addition, she is also using her Facebook account as an awareness site and is positively responsive. Nonetheless, Phenny just came up with her foundation, TAJI Foundation. An NGO that looks forward to create HIV awareness and to inspire people living with HIV/AIDS. Still online, she has formed a Whatsap Group called Stigma Free Society whose members are those living with the HIV virus only. Via the group, they empower one another and give that much needed comfort and hope.
All through our session, Phenny looked joyous, energetic and focused. I asked her if she’s ever had a moment that made her feel sidelined by the society because she looked so strong for any negativity. “I’ve learnt to be strong after all I passed through. You won’t believe at one time a guy wanted to take me to court and sue me because we kissed and I had not told him I’m infected with HIV. That was my most painful moment after learning my status but life had to move on. He called me all sorts of names including a cheap slut but I believed in myself as I was not one” she said. They later did a test three months later and the dude still tested negative.
One of those steps that Phenny has made that makes her feel still part of being just like the rest who are not infected is relationship life. She says most infected persons fear getting into relationships as they fear disclosing their status to potential suitors. “I never hid my status to these men and now see, we fell in love and together we got 2 adorable babies. None of them infected, not even their father, my ex” she says. Though she’s decided now never to get into another relationship or marriage as she’s now focusing on her kids and creating a stigma free environment for people living with the virus.
Phenny’s advice to people living with HIV/AIDS is to avoid re-infections, to be open to their status especially to their partners. She notes that some infect others out of bitterness but she doesn’t advocate for that. “It’s important to lead a moral life regardless your status. Acceptance matters and disclosure is an option for not everyone will have the courage to do that” she says
She however despises a lot people who neglects people living with the HIV virus. She terms that as illiterate and immature and a tool creating more damage to the already depressed victims. “Know that any moment you neglect or negatively approach a person with HIV, you’re contributing to both stigma and depression. These two are always fast causes of deaths of HIV victims” she points out.
She has made her number public for those who might feel and need to talk to her for HIV counselling and stigma related issues. She can be contacted via +254 705 556 489 or via her personal mail email@example.com or her company mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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