“I was born in exile in 1972, the 16th child of 36 children from seven wives. The love was spread very thinly, but through the grace of God, I managed to graduate as a teacher, and worked for 13 years before leaving to serve my community at the Dufatanye Cooperative in Nyanza, Rwanda. I am married to Dianne, with two boys and six adopted children.
In 1984, at 12 years old, I lost my sister to AIDS. At that time in Uganda, particularly in the Masaka district where I grew up, people believed that AIDS was caused by thieves who were then cursed with the disease. Sufferers were taken to witch doctors to be cured and their families suffered shame and humiliation in the villages. In 1987, my uncle Joseph was dying of AIDS and my father would not allow us to go and see him, I disobeyed, I went, I was given 50 strokes of the cane for my defiance.
My sister, my uncle and many, many more people died in terrible pain – alone, rejected and stigmatised by their own families. I will never forget the catholic sisters at Kitovu Hospital in Masaka, working with the AIDS support organisation TASO. When I was forbidden to care for and comfort my uncle, they took my place.
I left Uganda for Rwanda (the land of milk and honey, according to my parents), we had little idea of the horrors that were about to unfold there. The Genocide came in 1994; 100 days of slaughter, one million dead, evil came and dwelt in Rwanda during that time. Rape was used as a weapon of war, to infect and kill. Tutsi women and girls were forced into prostitution for their own survival. The scourge of HIV became an epidemic, those afflicted did not want to die alone, so did their best to spread it in their communities. The sufferers were still denounced, tagged as cursed by their own, thrown to the mercy of unscrupulous witch doctors.
The years following the genocide were not easy for me. I prayed to God to save my life, and, in return, I promised to serve Him as well as I could. I often thought of going back to Uganda to thank the catholic sisters, with the honey and yellow bananas, who cared for my uncle, and I heard a voice telling me to go and do the same.
The combination of that persistent voice and fulfilling my promise to God, led me to the community in Nyanza, to start working with people infected with HIV, to bring them out of hiding and isolation, breakdown the taboos and bring hope. I had a huge challenge on my hands, but with God’s guidance, the ‘Village of Hope’ is thriving.
Today, the people living there get medical support and treatment with ARV, they work, their focus is no longer on death but life, their future and their families. There is much more work still to be done, but together we can save so many more lives, spiritually, morally, physically and economically.
Executive Director -Dufatanye Organisation