After experiencing so much tragedy in her life Jennifer was scared to love anyone else, terrified that her love would cause them die. In deep grief, she even abandoned her daughters, afraid that if she loved them too much they would also pass away.
Jennifer was just three-years-old when her mother died from an AIDS-related illness. The pain of losing her mum was magnified by the shame inflicted on the household because her mother had suffered from HIV. The grieving family were frequently insulted and avoided by fellow villagers.
‘No kid in the village wanted to play with us and whenever we went to fetch water from the well everyone would disappear,’ recalls Jennifer.
When Jennifer was 14 her father tragically passed away and she moved to a nearby town in the hope of finding some work. She was hired as a house girl, a notoriously tough job, and would start her day at 5 am, only finishing at 10 pm. Jennifer would spend all her time fetching water, washing clothes and cooking food – she would live off the leftovers.
‘After a while I was so tired of being treated like a stray dog that I thought I would rather die a painful death from HIV than suffer in rich people’s homes,’ says Jennifer.
Even though she equated marriage with HIV, Jennifer was desperate to escape life as a house girl and at the age of 17 she wed. Her husband meant the world to her.
‘I loved him dearly and although we were very poor he always showed me that he cared a lot,’ smiles Jennifer. They had two girls together, Penny and Mercy, but then her husband died in a terrible car accident.
‘I blamed myself’
‘I don’t know why, but when my husband died I blamed myself for his death,’ explains Jennifer. ‘I started thinking that everyone who gets close to me dies. I was so hurt by my husband’s death that I even began to distance myself from my own children, thinking that if I loved them too much they would die too.’
‘Like a mad woman I dumped my children at their grandmother’s house. I felt so lonely and broken. To make things worse my husband’s relative came and took everything we had. He even chased me out of the small mud hut I had owned with my husband.’
At a loss, Jennifer moved to Magigye where her uncle was working as a teacher. ‘Even when I was living with my uncle I didn’t know how to relate to his family because I still thought that if I loved them they would die. It made it very difficult to stay with them and because of this my uncle’s wife never liked me.’
Joining Kira Farm
‘In my first few months at Kira Farm I didn’t make any friends and everyone thought I was rude – but I thought I was protecting them.
As Jennifer took part in the mentoring and Shine Girl programmes she began to see things differently. ‘Bit by bit I began to believe that it wasn’t my fault that my parents and my husband had died,’ she explains. ‘I started to love myself and make friends. During our first semester break I was even able to visit my children and re-connect with them.’
When Jennifer finished her training she went back to Magigye and used her new business skills to make pancakes and cassava chips to sell, she also started plaiting people’s hair - putting into practise the new hairdressing skills she’d learnt at Kira.
By Christmas time Jennifer had made a small fortune – 200,000 shillings (£45). ‘We’d learnt about saving money so while everyone else was spending all their money during the Christmas celebrations, I only spent 30,000 shillings and then went back to my village to use my capital to set up a hair salon,’ she says.
When Jennifer returned home she discovered her hut was empty. Even though relatives had forced her to leave, no one had moved in because they were afraid of catching HIV. All the bushes around the hut were completely overgrown so she spent two weeks slashing the undergrowth and clearing the ground.
She set about making some other changes too. ‘Because of the stigma our family faced we never used to go to public places like churches or markets,’ Jennifer explains. ‘But with the confidence I’d gained at Kira I decided I would go to church.
When the leader asked if there were any visitors in the church Jennifer stood up. ‘All I wanted was a platform to let people know what I can do and that I am normal,’ she says.
‘I talked about how my family had felt facing abuse and stigma in the village, and how my life had been transformed at Kira. By the end of the talk everyone was in tears.
The following week people started visiting Jennifer and offering their help in clearing her garden. This gave her the opportunity to teach them about the Farming God’s Way techniques (conservation farming) she’d learnt at Kira.
‘People even started bringing their garments for tailoring and asking me to plait their hair,’ she smiles. ‘I began making a good profit and joined a village savings groups where I am saving at least £2 a week.’
‘I’ve now opened a hair salon where I can make a living, share the gospel and encourage people who are having a difficult time,’ Jennifer beams.
She was thrilled to bring her daughters back home, and is also taking care of her siblings. ‘I am so grateful to Amigos for helping me to love again and for giving me the self-confidence that I lost due to the disgrace and humiliation I faced growing up.’
Amigos Worldwide is a registered Charity/NGO both in the UK and Uganda.
Amigos Worldwide, Registered in England, Company Number 6122350, Registered Charity Number 1119450
Registered Office 7A Beech Grove, Pilton, Barnstaple, Devon. EX31 1PZ
(Amigos International and Amigos are working names of Amigos Worldwide)