One of the things that delights me most in my work with PositiveLite.com is the window it allows me onto a worldwide community that affords me boundless uplift and inspiration.
Recently I was privileged to make contact online with William Matovu, a young HIV activist working at Love to Love Organization, which supports orphans and children living with HIV in Uganda.
"We provide and advocate for the rights of the innocent children who are orphaned and vulnerable and youth who we believe deserve love, care and support," said William. “Love To Love Organization started in 2010 with a talented group of young people from different backgrounds, both infected and affected with HIV, united through our mission statement to love, care for and educate the less privileged people, especially young children born and living with HIV/AIDS."
Of course I wanted to know more. It's a long way from Uganda to Ontario and since I don't tend to see a lot of news from that part of the world I am very keen to know my colleagues from there. It gives me a perspective that can never really come from the few news reports I see.
First William directed me to their YouTube channel, where I watched several music videos, (see below), performed and produced by the organization's HIV-positive music students as a means of increasing positive public awareness and combating HIV stigma. I also watched the first two episodes of a dramatic series they've produced about HIV.
Seeing the videos, reading the various accounts of Love to Love activities and William's own story all had an effect on me that was powerful as well as inspiring. I knew then that I wanted to share it here and William has agreed.
Here then is the story of the making of an HIV activist. I'd like you to meet William Matovu of Love to Love Organization.
“I was born on 15th June, 1994. I was born with HIV and both my parents died when I was still young. I found out that I was born with HIV at the age of 14 in the year of 2008. Before knowing that I was HIV positive, I used to stay with my stepmom in Kasangati.
“I got sick very often with frequent tumors on my cheeks and other serious illnesses. The sister to my stepmom directed me to Kawempe Home Care but my stepmom always refused me to go. Eventually, I decided to go to Kawempe Home Care and reaching there, I found a very humble lady named Joyce. With all my health issues, she handed over me to a medical doctor and tested for HIV.
“Unfortunately, the results showed that I had the HIV virus. My CD4 was 296 and my viral load was high. I started Septrin, an antibiotic to protect my health because back then, Kawempe Home Care had no HIV medication.
“When I told Joyce about my life, she comforted me as if I was part of her family. She told me that HIV is not the end of this world and I don't have to blame my late parents. She offered the next day to go to the Joint Clinical Research Centre in order begin HIV treatment.
“This is how it's gonna be... responding to the development of youths and who are less advantaged and orphans by promoting their God given talents.” – Love to Love Organization
“I went back home and told my stepmom but she ignored me. The following morning I joined Joyce to travel to the Joint Clinical Research Centre while knowing that my stepmom had abandoned me.
“Reaching there, Joyce acted as my aunt In order to help me get sign papers to start HIV treatment. The Doctor saw through this and demanded a real care taker. That would be my stepmom. An HIV counselor, madam Joyce and I drove up to our home.
“When we arrived, we found my stepmom there. After long struggle and much debate the counselor convinced my stepmother to start my treatment.
“While she signed the paper to give me HIV treatment, she abandoned me for good. So in order to make a life for myself I completed O-level secondary studies in 2010 and I started doing some odd jobs to earn a living. By that time I was just 16 years old.
“With the help of Kawempe Home Care I went for a course in motor vehicle engineering and I graduated but eventually got a job at the Love to Love organization that supports orphans and children living with HIV. I became a peer counselor and acquired skills of leadership and management in the field of HIV over the last 5 years.
“The Love to Love organization and Kawempe Home Care have been there for me and I am so proud of myself. I will continue serving the needy people as well as sensitizing the community about HIV and stay focused on serving the orphans and vulnerable children at Love to Love Organization and the entire world plus encouraging people living with HIV to adhere well to their drugs and use of prevention measures in order to have an HIV free generation."
William had meanwhile introduced me to the co-founder and chair of Love to Love Organization (as well as William's co-star in the "No More Silence" video below), Daniel Ssemuli and Danny came into the conversation now to help fill in some of the blanks about Love to Love Organization and about what it is to be an HIV-positive activist in Uganda today.
"LTL was established to support the HIV/AIDS affected and infected, making awareness through our programs, to improve on the wellbeing of positive children and youths through love, care and education in our communities.
"I and William are the key people in forming this organisation, striving hard to see that its objectives are carried forward.
"Since 2010 we have been involved in supporting the young HIV-disadvantaged children in different ways such as meeting their health economic needs and moral behavior change in urban and remote village areas.
"We have put up a platform for the HIV-positive youth and affected friends through our outreach awareness programs using our movies and HIV music awareness to express their concerns, share values about their life experiences."
And they do it without government funding.
Says Danny, "We have managed to go this far independently and self reliant in terms of support. However it has caused us a big set back having no external support. For example we cannot hire or get professional people to help us in services that require professionalism, for instance office work. It has also limited our movie production and music and cut the number of outreaches we can do in communities and schools, yet the demand is high for our services.
"We believe that if we can get partners who can help us with more ideas on how best we can improve our programs or financial support for our works, that would help.
"Getting international volunteers in the HIV field is also a way that can help take us forward. Also we need partnerships with affiliate organisations in the same field which could link us to their international HIV programs such as seminars, conferences and workshops. This would help us open our minds and gain much knowledge, hence improving on our programs way back home.
"We believe through love and advocacy we can end stigma and isolation and see HIV as any other disease that discriminates no one.
"Our outreach HIV program awareness activities have also communicated love and educated our people in communities, schools and by so doing many of our positive youth, volunteers and social workers have gained knowledge and acquired skills through acting in our movies, production of HIV awareness songs and filming which has helped them try to became self sustaining especially in our country Uganda which is now one of the most undeveloped and poor nations in Africa."
For my part, I hope you'll be as inspired as I've been to see some of the work that William Matovu and Daniel Ssemuli along with the other gifted and devoted youth of Love to Love Organization are doing in Uganda.
Follow them on twitter https://twitter.com/LTLORGUG
"No More Silence About HIV/AIDS", A Project By Love To Love Organization. Song sung by Ssemuli Daniel And Matovu William.
"So Is Life" sung by Children of Malayaka House, produced by Daniel Ssemuli.