The National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA) in Uganda was founded in 1992 to be of service to women and children infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.
Over the years NACWOLA grew from just a drama group, drawing more and more women, reaching more and more families. Florence Baluba the director of NACWOLA and group members Justine, Gertrude and Janifa let me spend a day with them in Kampala listen to their stories so I could pass them along. Because as Florence told me, “To let people know we are human beings too.”
Stigmatization of persons with HIV in Uganda is still prevalent. Janifa, Gertrude and Justine have been shunned by both their family and their husbands’ families. Each woman comes to the center regularly. First they came seeking refuge, love and support – now they are each giving back; supporting others, the newly diagnosed, struggling women and their families.
I also met three young people at the center. Each teen has a parent or other close family member who is HIV positive. I do not show their faces because they are running – essentially – an underground condom distribution ring.
I asked them when they became activists. All three laughed – and told me they didn’t even think of themselves as activists – they just do what they need to do. Which is true for NACWOLA as well – they simply do what they need to do because in Uganda stigma against those with HIV is alive and well.