For years, I thought I was HIV+


He was stigmatised and rejected for over
seven years as everyone thought he had HIV.
Nonetheless, this situation drove Humphrey
Nabimanya, 26, to become a youth peer
educator and to start Reach a Hand Uganda.
He talked to Jeff Lule
I was born to the late Yafesi Rwanyamukanga
and Barbara Kyenterire of Katereza, Rwampara
in Mbarara district. I am a community
psychology graduate from Makerere University
and the last of my mother’s eight children.
I was told my mum died immediately after
giving birth to me.
She was aided by my sisters to give birth in our
kitchen.
From then on, my grandmother took care of
me. Later, my elder sister, Jesca Rwiimi, decided
to take me in. She was living in Lungujja,
Rubaga division in Kampala and was HIV-
positive.
Her husband had succumbed to the scourge
years before.
My sister became my mother because she raised
me like her son. Even people in the
neighbourhood thought I was her son.

Rejection and trauma
Neighbours used to discriminate against us. They
avoided interacting with us closely thinking they
would get infected. Having grown up at her
home, people rejected me thinking I too was
HIV-positive. Every time I would go to play with
other children, their parents would call them
back into their houses.
“That is the son of the woman who lost her
husband to AIDS. If you play with him, you will
be infected and you will also die,” they would
say.
Later, my sister started dating a man who was
also HIV-positive. In 1993, the two decided to go
public and share their experience in the
communities — they told of how HIV can be
prevented and how one can be infected.
This worsened things for me in the community
because more parents saw me as a threat to
their children. Those who were found playing
with me were beaten, while other parents
locked their children inside their homes.

Suspended from school
In 1994, I joined Kitebi Primary School in Rubaga
division. Since my guardians had gone public
about their status and had been hosted on
various TV shows, many people knew them. At
school, both pupils and teachers believed I was
HIV-positive. I was isolated.
As a child, I had never played with toys but
lived in a sea of information about HIV and
sexuality, like condoms, literature and flyers
packed in boxes that my guardians used to give
out during their campaigns.
I knew a lot about reproduction long before my
P5 teacher taught me. So I thought I should
share the knowledge with classmates. One time,
I took some of these materials and gave them
out to my peers. They were excited.
Every time I would give out the materials, I
always told them to protect themselves to avoid
being victims like me and my guardians.
This attracted the teachers’ attention. They said
I was teaching other pupils bad behaviour and I
was suspended. My guardians were asked to
come to school. When they asked me why I was
distributing the information, I told them it was
because they also do it.

Sent away from home
In 1998, my sister went to the UK to work and
left us with her husband. When I returned
home for holidays, I found when my sister’s
husband had sent away everyone from the
home.
I went to live with my brother in the same area,
but his wife too sent me away. She said: “Go to
the village. You cannot be part of us.”
I used the little money I had to travel to
Masaka in Nyendo where I met the housemaid
who used to work at my sister’s home. She was
selling bushera (a local cereal drink in Ankole).
She welcomed me and I worked for her together
with her children. She used to give me sh1,000
per day, which I saved. I was there for about a
year and a half.
When my sister found out I had disappeared,
she threatened to have her husband
imprisoned. He immediately commissioned radio
announcements and eventually found me in
Masaka. He took me back to my brother, whose
wife had chased me away.
My sister sent them money to rent a bigger
house to accommodate me and my other
brother who was in secondary school. I joined
Rubaga Queen of Peace Primary School in 2001
and repeated primary five.
Nabimanya conducting a peer counselling
session

Mistreatment at home
I used to wake up at about 3:00am and do
house work before going to school. My brother’s
wife made me wash nappies and clothes for her
twin babies.
I later started fetching water in the
neighbourhood and would raise sh3,000.
In P6, my brother and I got a job with Alpha
Dairies in Nateete to sell their milk on bicycles.
The owners of the company liked me so much
because I was young and humble with many
customers. People used to buy from me
because of sympathy, thinking I was HIV-
positive.
In P7, I joined the boarding section. I begged
the matron and other teachers to let me
continue with my business in the first term.
They knew my problems.

Becoming an activist
One day, Dr Lutakome from Mulago Hospital
visited our school to talk about HIV. He asked if
there was anyone infected and I raised my
hand.
The entire class and teacher were surprised.
When the doctor asked me to say something
about my life, pupils laughed and booed me.
When I started talking about what I had gone
through because of being HIV-positive, everyone
went silent. Others shed tears. I advised them
to manage their lives responsibly because it was
not my wish to get HIV.
This testimony helped me become the head boy
at school and pupils liked me. They even started
caring for me. Pupils and teachers nicknamed
me counsellor and I felt proud.
I then dedicated my life to inspire fellow young
people through peer education, something I had
not dreamt of before. In my P7 vacation, I
looked for Lutakome and requested him to
initiate me into his group as a peer educator.
My turning point was when I joined a
programme called The World Starts With Me
(WSWM) which used to empower people on the
day-to-day realities of life through peer
education.
I learnt a lot about sexuality, communication
skills and teamwork. It gave me exposure and I
managed to meet many helpful people. When I
joined Kiira College Butiki in 2004, I introduced
the WSWM programme to the school and it was
embraced.

Five HIV tests
In my first term holiday, I went for an HIV test
and it turned out negative. Confused, I went to
four other centres to test myself. I tested at
Joint Clinical Research Centre in Rubaga, AIDS
Association in Namirembe, Mengo Hospital, AIDS
Information Centre, Kisenyi and National Forum
For PHA Networks in Uganda.
I expected to be HIV-positive, but surprisingly all
results were negative. I was shocked by this
revelation, but encouraged to continue with my
awareness campaigns.
After getting my teacher onto the technical
team, I mapped out several schools in Jinja and
launched clubs in other schools with the help of
a friend called David Magezi. I also formed a
clubs’ association and organised an inter-club
party. I invited many groups, which the head
teacher liked. I became so popular.
The topics we covered were mainly on drug
abuse, HIV and safe sex. Students with sexually
transmitted diseases used to approach me,
fearing the school nurse. I used to sneak them
out of school to Magezi in Jinja for assistance.
I tried to balance this activism with my
academics. For mathematics, I paid a teacher to
coach me privately.
Surprisingly, one day, my sister’s husband
visited me at school. He apologised for the past
and visited me often.
Youth TV show
In my S4 vacation in 2007, I went to one of the
local TV stations with a concept and started the
Youth Voice programme which discusses issues
affecting young people like sexuality,
behavioural change and morality. I continued
doing the TV programme even after joining
Namirembe Hillside for A’ level.
I also joined the debating club and won the first
trophy for best speaker during the schools’
competitions. During the holidays, I would
move from Kansanga to Kimathi Avenue in
Kampala for my show without any payment. I
did this for four years.
In 2009, I started a rural youth voice project
using my networks to educate the youth. I was
later taken on by Uganda Network for Sexuality
Main Streaming (UNESEM) as a peer educator in
schools.
Starting Reach a Hand
When I joined Makerere University in 2010, I
studied Community Psychology and started
thinking about how to start my own project to
transform society. I was invited to Holland to
talk about sexuality under 18, in the same year.
This gave me the foundation to start Reach a
Hand Uganda (RAHU) foundation with some
friends in 2011.
We got celebrities as motivational speakers and
to give career guidance to students. We address
issues like HIV, stigma, peer pressure, unwanted
pregnancies and STDs. We have reached 600
schools.
I started applying for conferences abroad and
would use my facilitation allowance to make
literature and brochures. Some people picked
interest and started supporting our work. Today,
we are sponsored by Rutgers WPF, MTV Staying
Alive and the Segal Family Foundation.

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