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Erastus poses for a photo at his farm where he produces enough for his family needs and sells surplus to get money for other needs. PHOTO/Courtesy

By Arnold Ageta

Loneliness once was the pillar that Erastus’ life was built around. After his first wife died of HIV, his family stigmatized him, assuming that he was living with HIV.

To heal and move forward with life, Erastus went back to his rural home. However, his family met him with resistance. “My family would often mock me and say that I am soon following my wife to the grave,” he said.

Erastus recalls that they would go so far as to not eat with him and refuse to use his utensils. The torment caused him to run away from home.

Things became even more worse when it came to his father dividing property among his siblings. His father did not did not give Erastus any land because of his HIV status.

“This broke me so much, I felt like I was not human or worthy of my inheritance,” he said with bent head and tears in his eyes.

After many tussles with his father, Erastus was finally allocated an acre of land, but not before Erastus’ father disclosing his status to his new neighbors. This made neighbors to stigmatize and avoid him like plague.

“The neighbors would never step foot near my land,” he explained. “They would laugh at me

because the land was barren and empty. They thought that I would never progress in life.”

Although awareness of HIV and AIDS is high in Kenya, many people living with HIV face high levels of stigma and discrimination which prevent people from accessing HIV services and other rights that they deserve.

Life has changed drastically for the 36-year-old who is now surrounded by a loyal community.

Erastus has since married a lady she met in one of the HIV programmes in his area. Together they live on his property, along with her child whom he openly embraced.

“When I met the Untold staff, I found a friend, confidant, and someone to help me let go of all

the negative things I carried to give room for my mind to dream,” he said.

The Untold HIV program gave him an opportunity to restore his dreams which were otherwise shuttered.

Erastus embarked on farming activities where he cultivated chilies, green grams, bananas, sweet potatoes, and many others.

“After a while, I started pig and rabbit farming. It is amazing what can happen when someone helps you unveil your potential,’’ he said smiling.

Erastus has taken advantage of the savings in their Untold HIV group ministry, where he has access to capital to achieve his farming goals.

“Today, I can never sleep hungry, my farm produces enough for all my family needs and more to sell and get some cash for other household needs,” he happily says.

More than just skill building, Erastus hosts the savings group meetings on his farm. “In fact, when my colleagues (people living with HIV) come, I provide for their meals and people stay here all day and never want to leave,” he added.

Erastus has even bigger dreams to meet, including diversifying his farming produce, building a

small fish pond, and selling produce to other markets outside Kilifi county.

“I would tell those who are HIV positive that there is hope. Do not lose hope. I lost everything, but today, I have joy and peace,” he concluded.

As the world celebrates World AIDS today under the ‘Let Communities Lead’ theme, there is need to answer the call to action to enable and support communities in their leadership roles.

This Day will highlight how communities’ leadership roles need to be made core in all HIV plans and programmes and their formulation, budgeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  Globally, 39 million people are living with HIV where an estimated 0.7 per cent of adults aged 15-49 years worldwide are living with the virus.

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