World AIDS Day: My Story


Ten years ago this day I was living in a remote East African village as a Peace Corps volunteer. I knew about the problems Africa was having with HIV/AIDS, but as a volunteer still in the beginning of her first year I did not fully understand how widespread, and yet how hidden, HIV/AIDS was here.

HIV/AIDS awareness seemed to be everywhere, but few knew their status. People died of malaria, dysentery, TB, or other diseases, not AIDS. There was no medicine.

One time, the local Catholic church held a community meeting about HIV/AIDS and health workers came to answer questions that locals had; no one held back. The church there did not forbid the use or distribution of condoms in my village; to do that, they said, would be to condemn life.

Three months after I left, I received a letter from a close friend there informing me that my counterpart (a local who was my working partner) had died of “some illness.” I knew what this meant–for my counterpart, for his family as he was the sole income earner. I have never cried like that before, and each year at this time I think of him.

I was very lucky to have a counterpart like Silvanus. He was creative, intelligent, eager to teach and learn. He considered it his responsibility to my mother to check on me each evening (he was also my neighbor) to make sure I was safe and had everything I needed before making me lock up my house each night. He also like to read my newspaper, as it was a great way to practice his English, but too expensive for him to buy himself. I would often just give him the newspaper, and the next day I would find the whole family hovering around it, devouring every bit of its details.

Silvanus had several children, each of whom he put through school despite exorbitant school fees. His youngest, Cephas, who was seven at the time, would always come to my house after school to color. I had crayons and lots of paper for him, and would spoil him with sweets. He would study hard at night, usually by candlelight.

I’m happy to say that I heard through my friend that Cephas is now in University. Silvanus would be so proud. I am.

That is the good news. Each trip I have made back there I learn of someone else who has died. I am thankful that I made the most of each day I had with each of them. But I still worry about my friends who are there, and their families.

Africa is not alone. This is happening all over the world. Rates are rising again in the US, especially in DC, where I used to live.

What you can do is know your own status: get tested.

Condoms, condoms, condoms.

If you can volunteer or even work at your local HIV/AIDS support clinic, do so. Many clinics are facing budgetary cutbacks that mean HIV+ members of your community are not getting all of the services that they need for adequate care. Even if you can just help translate the language, that’s something.

If you can donate money, do that. Just do something to help.



  1. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s alarming how many people in the DC metro area are living with this disease. My favorite organization is Food and Friends. They provide home delivered meals/grocery assistance to those living with HIV/AIDS and other life challenging illnesses such as cancer and kidney disease. It’s a wonderful organization. I wish there were more of them worldwide.

  2. Thank you for your post! Unfortunately, I also lost someone near to my heart from complications of AIDS. My younger sister passed away July 1, 2007. She was diagnosed HIV 14 years ago and approx 2 years later went full blown. We aren’t real sure how she contracted it, and at this point, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all take the precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. Without an immune system, my sister battled lung cancer for a couple of years. She went through many chemo/radiation sessions and each time she lost her hair, and I would knit her caps. I learned that the clinic she received her treatments from was in great need of caps/hats for their patients. I don’t have money to give (unemployed at the moment), but I do use my skills to knit and crochet hats to send to the clinic where she was treated in Oregon. The nurse that oversees this clinic was kind enough to respond after my first shipment to them, and told me that the hats were so much appreciated!! I will continue to do this in memory of my sister, for as long as God gives me the ability to. I love knowing that I am able to bring a minute bit of happiness to someone through my skills!!!
    Sadly, this is one time I can say “I know how you feel losing someone close to you from this disease”. I never thought this disease would hit so close to home for me. It can and it does, which is why awareness is so important….so again, thank you for your post!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing this story. I live in Azerbaijan (found your blog through Jenn’s) and it is amazing how so many people in Russia and the former Soviet Republics are in complete denial about AIDS. It is an “African” disease that won’t affect them, seems to be the consensus. And yet, I read recent statistcs that have Russia reaching alarming rates of HIV infection. Scary stuff.

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