Life was great for Tabitha in 2003. She was happily married, and she and her husband were expecting their second child.
Her doctor asked if Tabitha wanted to be tested for HIV, and on a whim, she said yes. And just like that, her life changed forever. “I took the test, and I was surprised to find that I was HIV positive,” she says. “I was very healthy. At that time I was 7 months pregnant.”
She gave birth to her son at home because she didn’t want anybody to know about her baby or her health. The boy was born without any health complications, and Tabitha even breastfed him. Mother and son were perfectly fine, and life moved on.
Tabitha’s health didn’t waver until 2008, when she became pregnant with her third child. Suddenly, she was sick all the time. The turning point was when she developed a skin disease. “I was scratching myself all over,” she says. “That’s when I went to the hospital seriously. I knew my status, but I just went to the hospital like a new client. I went, I was tested, I was discovered, I started the drugs, and that was it.”
However Tabitha’s husband didn’t think it was that simple. He asked for a divorce because he didn’t want anything to do with her and their HIV-infected children anymore–even though none of their children are HIV positive.
Though she remained strong for her children, Tabitha says the biggest challenge of her new status was the rejection from her family. Her children weren’t even allowed to play with their own cousins. “After the discovery of your status, they always see death. They don’t see you surviving. They don’t see you having another chance to live,” she says.
Though she lost one family, Tabi soon gained a whole new family after she met Anne, the LPK Community Health Worker, at the clinic that she frequented. Anne brought her to a support group meeting at the LPK office, and that was the beginning of Tabi’s journey to recovery. “I stayed in Anne’s house for a week, and then I found my own house and started my own life,” she says.
Support group was transformational for Tabi’s mental wellbeing. “I was a changed person by the time I graduated from the WEEP class,” she says. “I was not the weak person that I was. The mentality that I had was reformed. I had a new fresh mind. I was no longer sick. This was something new. I was not dying. I will be able to look after my kids.”
The psychosocial and HIV intervention elements were of particular significance because they helped her filter out all of the toxic negative thoughts and feelings she had festering inside of her. “For six months, the only thing you are doing is being encouraged to take drugs and give out your story so that by the time you are in WEEP, you are able to focus. You are no longer crying. You are laughing when the others are laughing. You are a free person.”
Graduation day finally came in 2013, and soon, she was selling bags and fabrics from Uganda in her own business. She did this for two years before eventually becoming the receptionist at the LPK office.
When she’s not greeting visitors or answering phone calls, Tabitha works as a Mentor for other LPK women. “I want women to learn from me,” she says. “I was once like them. Once they see me, they know that it can happen to them. They can change, their lives can change. LPK made me the person I am today.”
Tabitha is a lighthouse, a beacon of hope for these women. Her glowing smile, her vivacious personality, and her soaring vocal talents breathe life into the office and into these women as she lights the way for them with her positive light.