HIV RESILIENCE HEROES
In Tanzania, an HIV-positive grandmother inspires others to reject stigma, embrace treatment and prevention
Happiness Brasio was in her early 50s when she started becoming sick more and more often. Illness was one more burden added to an already difficult life: Struggling with poverty, Happiness was raising her 1-year-old grandchild alone after her husband had taken another wife and moved away.
Her symptoms matched those of opportunistic infections that are common in people with untreated HIV. Reluctantly, Happiness decided to get tested.
“It was not easy,” she recalls. “I was afraid of the results. I thought, What if I am positive? How will I survive?”
Her story is common here – the HIV prevalence in Kagera is 6.5 percent, with women disproportionately infected – but Happiness says she has never felt more alone than the day she learned she was HIV-positive.
“I was desperate and confused.”
Her health quickly began improving with antiretroviral therapy, but the stigma surrounding her status was too much for Happiness to bear. She decided never to disclose to anyone that she was living with HIV.
Her feelings began to change after she and her grandchild were enrolled in Kizazi Kipya, or New Generation, a USAID program implemented by Pact that works to transform the lives of vulnerable Tanzanian children and their caregivers, especially those affected by HIV. After a volunteer community case worker visited Happiness, she helped her get started in a local WORTH group. Pact uses its WORTH model around the world to help women save money, access credit, start small businesses and lift themselves and each other out of poverty.
“Being HIV-positive is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of a new chapter in life.”
Happiness soon discovered that other women in her WORTH group were also living with HIV. They shared their status openly and were active, accepted members, living full, productive lives. Slowly, Happiness gained the confidence she needed to be open about her own status.
“I disclosed my health status to other members of the group and to my family. The news was positively received. From that day, I felt worth living – like a person who has a lot of dreams to accomplish.”
Today, Happiness’s life has changed in many ways. With loans she took from her WORTH group, she began raising goats and soon plans to buy a cow to help fertilize a small banana farm. She recently bought land and is saving money to build a new, sturdier house than the one she lives in now – her late parents’ house.
Her health is strong, and she has become an advocate for others who are living with HIV. She visits WORTH groups in other areas to educate them about HIV and to encourage women to get tested, stay on treatment and overcome fear and stigma. She has inspired others to accept their HIV status, be open about it and forge on.
“Being HIV-positive is not the end of life,” she says, “but rather the beginning of a new chapter in life.”