On 16 March 2014, Yealie sat down under a tree and contemplated how she could end her life.
She had been feeling ill for months; some days she was so weak getting out of bed was impossible. Visits to witch doctors proved a waste of money.
As Yealie’s body deteriorated, speculation started among her family that she was living with HIV, and her husband asked her to leave the main house to sleep in a back room.
Her isolation was compounded when her community, in the Port Loko District of Sierra Leone, also began to avoid contact with her: ‘Everyone abandoned me,’ recalls Yealie. ‘’I was ostracised by my own family, friends and community, and thought I had lost all hope.’
Like many in her village, Yealie had little knowledge about HIV and faced with being stigmatised and isolated, she contemplated ending it all. Then a local church pastor, trained by Tearfund partner Scripture Union to support people living with HIV, saw Yealie sitting under the tree and asked her for directions. He noticed she’d been crying and quickly the focus of his visit shifted.
Pastor Sheku urged Yealie to go to a medical centre where she was counselled before being tested for HIV. The test proved positive. It was the start of long-term support for Yealie by the church.
Our partner is also working to reduce parent-to-child transmission of HIV via a programme called Improving Parent and Child Outcomes, which uses Mother Buddies.
Mother Buddies are trained to visit and encourage pregnant women to access antenatal services and to give birth in a health facility. They also counsel those who test positive and support them through continuous treatment.
Ten churches like Pastor Sheku’s have been trained and are supporting the work. In the last year the Mother Buddies have accompanied 447 mothers to the health centre and all have been tested for HIV, with 16 positive results.
Yealie said, ‘Because of the intervention of Scripture Union, I’m facing the stigma with hope. I’m on anti-retrovirals and people now understand a bit more about the disease.’
Stigma remains an ongoing issue though: ‘People whisper and stare as I pass on the street, some don’t even want to touch me or even shake my hand. To this day, the myth persists in my community that you can get HIV by having any kind of contact with an infected person.
‘Living with HIV is gruelling. Every evening, I nearly gag at the thought of taking seven horse-size pills to manage my T-cell count, a measure of my immune system's strength. The next morning, I sometimes feel nausea. I vomit about once a week.
‘No matter how well I might be holding up on a given day, there is never a vacation from the sickness and heartache.
‘But I have hope that God will see me through this illness and my business will start again, and I will regain the love of my husband, family members and friends that was lost.
‘I want to thank God and the work of Scripture Union through Tearfund for training pastors that are highly respected within the community who people can confide in.
‘Pastor Sheku not only helped save my life, but also that of my husband because he counselled my husband and encouraged him to have an HIV test, which was also positive. His constant visits to our house made us realise that God’s love is real, there was no stigma and discrimination from him. Because of this love I’m now a member of Pastor Sheku’s church. Before I was not going to church.’
- Please pray against the stigmatisation of Yealie and for the restoration of her relationship with her husband, friends and family.
- Give thanks for the work of Tearfund partner Scripture Union as it equips people like Pastor Sheku to work with those living with HIV, particularly mums with children.
- Pray for the work of Mother Buddies, who seek to reduce parent-to-child transmission of HIV.
We pray because we're desperate for God - to walk with him... in step with his will for the world.
Join our global poverty prayer movement. Go here for more information