23 Aug 2009 15:00
In Uganda, by the beginning of the 1990s, corpses kept piling up in the morgues and nobody knew what was going on. During the days when it seemed like hope had escaped that land, a few HIV positive women decided to bring it back, not for them but for their children.
That is how NACWOLA (National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS) was born, during the International Conference on AIDS held in Amsterdam in 1992. The three founding members died of AIDS during the following years, but their legacy was a ray of light in the darkest days. With the help of European health and psychology professionals, the decided to put in writing what they would never be able to tell their children, and they created the Memory Books. These books are their recollections, they tell us about them and the future they want for their children, pages full of words of care and affection. They are motherhood guides from beyond, survival tutorials for lost children, since over 12 percent of Sub-Saharan underage population will lose at least one of their parents in the next 12 months, and they will be on their own.
As Gladys, the person in charge of the Memory Books project in Luwero, the center of the country, tell us: “They are each special and very personal, in spite of following a common pattern that includes family
photos, memories and a family tree. With these books we encourage parents to listen to their children, to talk to them frankly about their disease.”
The project is like a big family with members helping each other emotionally and financially in
their daily struggle for survival. Mothers, orphans and grandmothers, many of them displaced by the internal war with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). In a country where 35% of the population is HIV positive, where there are two million orphans, a country in which polygamy and dowry are common practice, these women are struggling against the AIDS stigma and are not afraid of anything.
NACWOLA and the project have given them hope.
Photos and text by David Rengel and Alvaro Laiz.