Healing HIV-Positive Women
By Florence Ntakarutimana
Frequently the most compelling comments are found in original reports.
In Burundi and Rwanda AGLI is developing a specific Healing and Rebuilding
Our Community workshop for HIV-positive women. Since the traumatic
experiences of the HIV-positive women, rather than being over, will
more than likely increase in the future, these workshops will need
to be different than the current one developed to deal with the trauma
of war. Issues of living with HIV/AIDS need to be included. To develop
this workshop, HROC-Burundi invited twenty HIV-positive women to three
workshops. The first was a basic AVP workshop, the second an HROC workshop,
and the third an HIV/AIDS workshop. Below, with some light editing,
I have reproduced the reports of these three workshops. HROC-Burundi
and HROC-Rwanda are now in the process of developing this new HROC-HIV
positive workshop and will soon be conducting trial workshops. David
Zarembka, AGLI Coordinator
Basic AVP Workshop with HIV Positive Women
Twenty women were invited, but only nineteen finished the workshop
because one of them got sick at the second day. At the first day,
they were not very open to share their experiences of life, but as
we moved on with the workshop, they started to manifest their joy
and how they were pleased by the workshop. Here is what they testified:
-First of all, I am thankful to be invited in this workshop. It is
very different form other workshops and seminaries I have attended.
When I got the invitation, I asked Felicite how much money I will receive
each day and she told me that there is no stipend. I told to myself:
let me go for one day to see what they are doing. Surprisingly, I had
been very pleased by the teachings. Instead of the one day I was planning
to participate, I wished even to continue for a week. My dear friends,
I am honest, after these three days with you, I discovered that the
thinking of money was a poor thinking. I gained how to resolve conflicts
without using violence. It helps me so much because at home I find
myself almost always in conflicts with my neighbors. Now I am ready
to let the transforming power work within me and many things will change.
-When I knew that I had AIDS, I became so violent before my husband
and children. The” I message” was far from me. I was blaming
my husband and accusing him to bring the HIV in the family. I could
even insult him in front of our children. But now I am ready to use
the transforming power within myself in talking to my husband so that
we may work for the future. We had stopped doing projects for life,
we were drinking and eating, telling to ourselves that tomorrow we
- I am so pleased to attend this AVP workshop. It gave me more insights
about how to help people in complicated times and conflicts. I went
back into my life and found that I had been violent without knowing.
I liked much the topic of transforming power. The “I message” is
for me a constructive way of communication that I will be using in
my daily life and work. I saw also that violence can bring trauma.
I found that AVP workshop and HROC workshops are complementary. I am
lucky to attend it as HROC facilitator and worker.
Also, to be with these women pleased me so much. They need love, and
compassion. It is as if they had no hope and no friends. But at the
end of the workshop, you could read joy and trust in their eyes. When
we separated every body was laughing and we had hope of meeting again
for the next HROC workshop.
HROC Workshop with HIV Positive Women
The women who participated in the last AVP basic workshop in Magarama
are the same women who participated in this HROC workshop. Three
of them were sick and did not come. They were so excited to meet
again one month after the AVP workshop. From the beginning of the
workshop, they were very open to share their experiences of their
lives in their sickness, and each one who gave his testimony encouraged
and conforted others. Felicite Niyonzima, Chantal and Cassilde who
have been open in giving their testimonies from the beginning of
the workshop in giving their testimonies helped others to be open.
-When I learned about Johari’s window, I saw that there is
something I know about myself that others don’t know: the HIV/AIDS
I live with. When I realized that I had HIV five years ago, it was
not easy for me to accept that traumatizing situation. I hated life
and planned for suicide. But I felt sorry for my children who would
stay orphans, and I stopped suicide. Many things changed in me because
of this workshop: Before, I could not be with and talk to others;
I was thinking that everyone hates me because I am sick; and many
times in our culture, somebody who is suffering from AIDS is abandoned.
To see loving and kind people like you who take care of HIV positive
people is rare. Really I can say that you had been my doctors. Now
I feel happy, and to be with others pleased me so much. The time
of sharing our experiences healed me because I saw that there are
others who have the same problem as me, and I learned from them that
I have to consult a doctor.
-I had attended many workshops about AIDS but I had said that I will
never attend any workshop because I was not interested by the teachings
given. The intention of many was to gain money using our sickness;
that is too bad. I am surprised by how this workshop is very interesting.
The last AVP workshop was good but this HROC workshop is very special.
It is a healing workshop. You know that in our culture it is shameful
to say that you have AIDS. But the time of sharing our experiences
healed me. Now, I believe that to talk heals.
- I liked very much the topic about the tree of trust and the tree
of mistrust. Before this workshop, I was like a tree of mistrust
because when my husband and I knew that we had AIDS (we were married
young) we decided to not have a child; and in our culture, when you
don’t have a child, you are blamed. Our neighbors stopped relationships
with us because of our sickness. I had no friend. Sometimes my husband
and I used to blame each other, accusing each other to be the one
who brought the sickness. That is really traumatizing. Now I feel
something like a great burden falling down. I can underline that
the methodology you used contributed much in my healing: there was
a lot of fun and relaxations. You did not stand before us and give
us much notes as others do in the seminars I attended; each one participated
in giving ideas. I have much to say but I am limited by the time.
In few words, know that I got healed from my trauma because of this
-My husband died of AIDS and I stayed with my five children. To feed
them became so hard to me. One day, one of my children was confused
by the situation and told me that it would be better for me to die
because I am useless to them. I got angry and threw a knife at him.
He ran out and the knife did not touch him. From that day, that child
is no longer at home, he lives with his grand-mother. Since that
day, I started to feel bad and many times I judged myself that I
was going to kill my own child because of anger. That traumatized
me so much. Sometimes I could not sleep, other times I have bad dreams.
I asked him for forgiveness but I don’t believe him when he
tells me that he forgives me, I keep feeling guilty. That would not
happen if I had already attended a workshop like this. Yes, the workshop
helps me so much but I still need a follow-up.
HIV/AIDS Workshop with HIV Positive Women
Everyone was eagerly waiting for the workshop. Participants were
hugging each other in happiness and everyone was on time. The workshop
was done in the techniques and methodology of HROC workshops with
fun and relaxations as well, and we inserted the lessons about AIDS.
Here is the summary of what we did each day:
We started by song and prayer as usual and a devotional time. After
welcoming each other and knowing the objective of the workshop, we
set up the ground rules. We took time to share how they put into
practice what they had learned in the HROC workshop; what were the
results. The people said that they are living a new life; a life
of reconciliation and peace. They gave many testimonies. In the afternoon,
we focused on the introduction to AIDS, where we were told what is
HIV, AIDS and the statistics in the last three years.
For the second day,
We dealt with where the viruses of AIDS is found: in the blood, urine,
and secretions. We learned how one becomes contaminated by the HIV/AIDS.
The facilitator told us also the importance of consulting a doctor
whether you are sick already or not. After that subject, many gave
their testimonies of how they knew that they are sick and how they
now live with the sickness. We took a time of listening to them and
here is what they told us:
-Cassilde: I did a blood test because my husband died sick and he
died weighing 40Kg [88 pounds]. When the doctor told me that I am
sick, it was not easy for me to accept it. It was beyond understanding.
But I finished by accepting it and now I take medicines at a regular
time as the doctor told me now I am ok. But HROC contributed much
in the good life I have now.
-Therese: I and my husband are suffering from AIDS as I told you
in the last workshop. To accept ourselves was hard. Now we take medicines
as the doctor told us and we use condoms when we do the sexual relationships.
-Felicite: I did the blood test after the death of my husband. Because
I follow the advice of the doctor, I am ok as others. Many guys used
to ask me to marry them and when I tell them that I am sick they
don’t believe me. They think that it is to refuse them. I feel
sorry for those who still have fear of doing the blood test. They
are killing themselves. Many of them are contaminating others. It
is too bad; let’s stand up and help others to know how their
-Chantal: My husband died of AIDS but he did not tell me that. I
did the blood test because I was suffering from different sicknesses
at the same time. When I started to take medicines, my body reacted
badly to them. The doctor changed the medicines and now I am ok.
I advise those who still have fear to do the blood test to change.
After many other testimonies of those who are sick, the participants
who don’t know that they are sick or not because they have
not yet do the blood test said that now, they are going to do it
next week for the good of their life. I let them know that Chantal
is the one who does the blood test in Gitega hospital. She promised
to welcome them and to keep confidentiality.
In the afternoon, we dealt with how a person can live well with the
HIV (which included to do the blood test, to consult the doctor regularly
and to take medicines). Some advice was given to people who give
themselves medicines or who do not follow the advice of the doctors.
We also presented other disciplines: to take rest, to eat adequately,
the use of condoms for the couples already sick and for the protection
of the partner who does not know because he has not yet taken the
A facilitator brought condoms (female and male) and told us how to
use them. For many participants, it was the first time to see female
This day was dedicated to trust building. I liked much how Emile
did this. He showed how HIV/AIDS positive people were treated in
prior years. In the past: such persons were devalued, set apart and
blamed. There was no medicine, there was no long life for the sick
people. There was no effort to help them. He showed what is done
in the present time: there are Associations to support sick people,
there are medicines for long life of sick people, children may be
born safe from a sick mother, the sick people are valued, they can
work in offices as others. He said that things will continue to be
better in the future. If God wants, the medicines to heal may be
We finished with a look at sick people in the community. We said
that such people can use their wounds to comfort others, to serve
many, to be useful and important. The participants thanked so much
those who started and funded this program and wished it to continue.
I was honored to be with these women all three times. I learned much
from them—like patience. Thank you for the project and the
support. We really had a good time in Gitega.
Florence Ntakarutimana is the HROC training manager in Burundi and
has taken on the responsibility of developing the HROC workshop for
HIV positive women.