Thursday, November 29, 2007

'MY STUDENTS WERE SCARED OF ME' !

In the run-up to World Aids Day on Saturday, the BBC is debating how Aids is affecting teaching in Africa. Kenyan teacher Margaret Wambete, 45, tells the BBC News website how finding out that she was HIV positive five years ago was shameful, but activism has turned her life around:

Margaret has been in good health since taking anti-retrovirals It was really hard in the beginning.
I didn't go willingly to be tested even though I was sick. I had TB [tuberculosis]. The children at school were all running away from me because I was so thin.
I frightened them and they called me "scarecrow".
And then when I discovered my status I told the head teacher in confidence.
But he breached my confidentiality and it was not long before everyone knew I was HIV positive.
My students were scared of me and were disrespectful - they refused to hand in assignments for marking and would not take orders from me.

My teaching colleagues were no better either.
People rejected me, saying they were not ready to bury me.
I suffered.
I kept being transferred from one school to another because of my status.
But before I arrived at a new school, my papers would have already arrived which stated that I was HIV-positive and so I would be met with hostility and moved on once more.
I never got to teach. I never gained acceptance in those days.
It took some time but after a while the stigma and discrimination I was facing stopped bringing me down and instead made me want to rise up.

AFRICA HAVE YOUR SAY

HIV-positive people still have to earn a living. It is however important that patients are counselled and assessed to ensure that they do not pose any risk to their students
Annette, Uganda
Send us your comments

All of them, all those who had treated me the way they had, they had formed a challenge for me - I decided to fight their attitudes from the grassroots so people like me could be seen differently.
I wanted to unite HIV-positive people in Kenya to fight stigma and promote access to education, care, support, treatment. I wanted myself and others like me to be able to live positively with the virus.
My vision still is to empower HIV-positive teachers with social and economic support to ensure that their ability as those determining knowledge is not compromised.
I started the Kenya Network of HIV-Positive Teachers (Kenepote) in 2004, three years ago with support from Unesco and USAid.
Now we have about 3,000 members across Kenya's eight provinces.

We target stigma aggressively by holding workshops - teachers are ignorant of the available services and so don't want to come out because they are afraid of the repercussions.
If you as a teacher are sick and cannot make it into class to teach then because of absenteeism you can be sacked and removed from the registrar.
Whereas in fact there are policies in place to protect you.
But if you don't know this, then what can you do?
So that it is my task - to educate and hopefully bring acceptance.
And it is working well. The students react quite differently now - instead of shunning you - they come to you and tell you, "Please come to my home because I need you to speak to my father and mother. My father is sick."
Once statuses are known, conversations are more open. I do quite a lot of counselling.
The burden is shared.
And when I am in town these days I tend to go by car because if I walk on foot everyone wants to talk to me and it takes too long to get things done.
It is so strange how something that was so shameful at the beginning is now bringing me so much joy and pride.
BBC NEWS REPORT.

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