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Opinion: Reflections from an empowerment programme graduate

Chest of woman with red ribbon (AIDS symbol) pinned to clothes. T shirt reads 'strong female lead'

The following personal journey was shared during the HIV Community Empowerment Programme and includes mentions of abuse, please take care in reading.

Tell me about your HIV journey

I came to the UK in 2004 and was subjected to modern slavery, which led to my current leave to remain immigration status. I was diagnosed in 2007. I went to my GP as I had a lump on my neck and had a biopsy. I was diagnosed with TB. The lump did not go away and then I was tested HIV positive 6 months later and hospitalised for two weeks. After my diagnosis, I did not want to associate myself with HIV services and I was in denial. A friend supported and looked after me. At that time I did not share my status with her. I only told her in 2021, although she had suspected that it was HIV and has been very supportive.

How did you hear about the Empowerment Programme course?

Through Positive East who felt I could benefit from the course.

What made you decide to come on the course?

The need to connect and learn from others. I wanted to update myself on HIV information as well as to have some fun. It mentally helped me as I sometimes I get into my own thoughts and being with others helps me come out of my own thoughts. I like having this knowledge so that I can apply and share with others, it gave me a positive mindset.

How did you feel about your HIV status before you attended the course?

It increased my creativity, and I was inspired to open up and express my creativity that I had known I had but had never used. It was great to be inspired to write a poem whilst I attended the course. I feel more of an advocate and encouraged to be one. I feel my communication and language skills have improved and increased my knowledge about the changing language around HIV.

How has the Empowerment Programme course helped or benefited you?

It has given me a positive mindset and I feel I can set goals and have a confidence that helps me move forward and not dwell so much on the negative. That HIV does not have to define you and not take you away from your talent and creativity and to shine your light! To inspire others along the way and to look at what you have gained and not what you have lost along the way. This is my HIV family, and the support groups empower me and allow me to be more creative.

How do you feel about your HIV status after completing the Empowerment Programme course?

I feel more empowered to help others and feel I am allowed to be more creative and express myself through cooking, writing and dancing with the information I got from the course and Positive East.

What has been the biggest impact or change the course has made in your life?

I took away developing my relationship skills and realised we are all leaders. Learning and the wisdom to share and guide others.

What would you like to see and get involved in the future?

I’d like to get involved in programmes that empower others. Get involved with creative workshops to bring out others hidden talents and get social support groups. I would like to get involved in peer support and ambassador programme and video work. I’m also interested in migration policy.

Anything else you would like to say?

I like to express creativity and like to attend knitting classes. I was interested in African women and hair loss during HIV diagnosis and began to collect hair. As part of World Aids Day I knitted a hair art piece about weak and straight hair as a symptom of HIV.

For more information on the HIV community empowerment programme, read our recent article on the report. 

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