By Consolata Opiyo
My name is Consolata Opiyo. I am 25 years old. I am from Nairobi, Kenya and I live in a neighbourhood called Dandora Phase 4. I am ambitious, I am driven, I am HIV positive and I am committed to making the lives of girls and women who are living with HIV better.
I tested positive for HIV when I was 3 years old. My beautiful mum, Patricia, unknowingly passed the infection on to me. She was just 22 when I was born, and had no idea that she was HIV positive. Two weeks after my birth, she was told her status, and it nearly broke her. Thankfully though, she stayed strong and got educated about HIV and about how to live positively with it. It’s because of her and her strength that I am not only alive today, but informed enough to be able to help others who are struggling with their status too.
I am passionate about working in girls’ empowerment because I’ve seen firsthand the ways in which girls do not get the same opportunities as boys in my country. They are expected to be docile and be submissive and do everything that everybody else says. I am passionate about them because they are the age group who is going through a hard time. They are the ones who are being infected with HIV. They are the ones who are being forced into marriage, raped. They are not allowed to speak for themselves.
I’m lucky; I am not docile or submissive because I grew up with a mum who was passionate about activism and who believes that everybody has the right to speak out and be heard. This is why I decided to become a peer educator in my local community and a volunteer at the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) in Kenya. I know what it’s like to feel alone, but I also believe that sharing my own story will help other girls to come to terms with theirs.
When I was in high school, I was mistreated badly by people because of my status—even the teachers who I expected to support me didn’t. At that time, I felt so weak and so small; I thought that the world didn’t see me as a person, and like adolescents and teenagers sometimes do, I thought about killing myself. That was the weakest point in my life. I was 15 and I felt like I did not have a voice, like I was not important, like I was not needed in this world.
I got through that difficult time because of my mum. She supported me, and told me I was not weak and that I knew what I needed to do. Now, thanks to the Global Fund, and its support of programmes that I work on at the ICW, other girls who are dealing with their status can hopefully get through the difficult times in their lives too.
Seeing the problems these girls face can be difficult. Seeing them not be able to afford food so they can take their medicine safely, seeing them making ill-informed decision because they have no other options, seeing them give up hope, give up on life—it’s a challenge. But knowing, thanks to the support we receive from the Global Fund, that I have put a smile on one girl’s face, knowing that I’ve changed one life, knowing that progress can be made, is a huge driver for me, and I hope will be for others too.
Young women are the future of this world. It literally cannot go on without them. This is why my mum and I have written a letter to the host of this year’s Global Fund replenishment, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, thanking him for his work so far and urging him to make sure that world leaders invest at this year’s replenishment.