When Evelyn from South Sudan discovered she had contracted HIV she thought her life was over. However, she has learned that she – along with others living with the virus – have an important role to play in a nation riven by conflict.
Evelyn Letio first discovered that she had HIV 25 years ago. She was living in Uganda, widowed with four children. She had been considering remarrying when she learned the news.
‘I wanted to bring my dead husband out of the ground and cut him to pieces. I was so full of anger and bitterness that he had brought HIV into our lives. I thought of nothing but death and revenge.’
However, God had a rather more hopeful message for her, and, it turns out, a plan.
Two new beginnings
After learning of her infection, Evelyn left Uganda to return to the nation of her birth, South Sudan. There, she planned to live out what she thought would be her last years, leaving her children in the care of relatives.
When she arrived, she found South Sudan wracked by poverty and years of war, which had left people with nothing. Meanwhile, her relatives had learned about her husband’s death. Because of the stigma connected to HIV, they ostracised her, refusing to eat with her, touch her or even allow her near their homes. This only added to her bitterness. However, at her lowest ebb, God decided to speak to her.
‘In the midst of my illness and despair, God told me: “My daughter, with or without HIV, you must live.”’ The voice was so real that Evelyn says she looked under the bed to find its source. Eventually she went down on her knees and asked God to free her from the bitterness. She also asked for the courage to speak openly with everyone she met about having HIV.
As she got up again, Evelyn says she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her. And, just as she had asked God, she started talking about her HIV status.