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Why I employ persons living with HIV

Posted by By EMMANUEL MAYAH on 2006/06/19 | Views: 480 |

Why I employ persons living with HIV


In a society where confessed HIV carriers are hounded out of schools or have their appointments tacitly terminated, a young employer is going out of his way to give jobs to HIV victims.

In a society where confessed HIV carriers are hounded out of schools or have their appointments tacitly terminated, a young employer is going out of his way to give jobs to HIV victims.


Though Steve Aborisade has thrown in many years to HIV campaign, his organization, Prajekt Hope is barely one year old.
Today however, it is a sanctuary of sort to a growing number of Nigerians who hitherto had been driven to their wits end on account of making public their HIV status.


Anyone who has been to the Omotayo-Ojo-Street office of the NGO in Ikeja must have come away with the fact that over 90 percent of the staff are HIV carriers. They don’t look it though; not with their luxuriant looks and positive approach to life. Among them are Miss Aminat Alli and Monisola Ajiboye both of whom you would find being cuddled by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka in a group photograph. Another is Fred Adeboye, the student who made headlines two years ago when he was kicked out of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba after he had innocently confided in his Rector about his HIV status.


For Aborisade, providing employment for this category of Nigerians is firstly a bold attempt at confronting a monster called stigma, which has turned out to be even more cold-blooded than the HIV virus itself. It is also a new and pragmatic approach in building victims’ self-condidence; a strategy to signpost careers who are what he called “positive models” and to use them to tell the story of new possibilities, which is that there is still normal life after HIV.


Indeed, it is all in a day’s work for an organization that has clearly braced up to rise above rhetorics in the HIV-AIDS campaign. Speaking further on his guiding principle, Aborisade said: “When you are talking politics, you have to involve politicians; when you are talking about the economy, you have to involve economists. When you are talking about HIV/AIDS you just must involve infected individuals.
He who feels it knows it. What affect our staff affect other people and we see these things. Adegboyega of NIJ is presently with us on attachment; he’s going to continue afterwards as a member of our staff. Last Christmas, I spent two days at Ibadan with a family that is HIV positive. We share in their pains. If you don’t get close you can’t know. The only way to know is to involve them. Mojisola and Adegboyega are report for us”.


HIV, not a killer disease
Speaking to Satuday Sun, Aborisade pointed out that the thrust of the campaign of Projekt Hope is to shatter the myth that HIV is a killer disease. The myth, he said, has endured as a result of prolonged misinformation in the media over the years. Infact, the mission of his NGO is “combating HIV in Nigeria with accurate information.”


Contrary to the belief that HIV is a death sentence, the activist who is the Editor-in-Chief of the on-line magazine, NigeriaHIVinfo.com said; “It is a dangerous misinformation. That is why people believe that once you test positive, the only thing is to hide in your room and die quietly.


But no! The gap between HIV and AIDS is so wide to the extent that if you are positive and you find out early enough and you do the right things, you will never develop full-blown AIDS. It will interest you to know that there are people who have lived with the virus for 17 years and they never developed AIDS. It is all about early testing.


In fact, there are people who tested positive over ten years ago and they are not even on Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARD). The point is this: if you go for test and you are negative, then you guide your status jealously by maintaining a risk-free lifestyle. But if it turns out positive, you can quickly seek those avenues that are now abundant to take care of yourself. If you embrace treatment and care early enough, be sure you can live a normal and healthy life for the rest of your life. Most people on ARD are those who have been positive for three or four years and their immune systems have been compromised before they went for test.


But with early testing, the advantage is that you can be placed on regimented diet and you won’t even need drugs and your immunity would be boosted. The experience in Nigeria is that most people will not go for test until they are dying. It is only when they are terribly sick and they go for thyphoid test and nothing is working and they are not responding to treatment, that’s when they will say; let’s try HIV test.”


To underscore the point, Aborisade added that he once did an overview of a Lagos-based organization that runs free HIV test in Lagos and Ogun states. To his horror, he found out that in both states with population over 15 million, the organization was only able to test about 1,000 people in one year, simply because Nigerians are afraid to go for test.


My mission
Speaking on what obviously for him is a huge passion, Aborisade stated that Projekt Hope is a media response conceived to combat the social reaction of stigmatization and discrimination facing people who are HIV positive, otherwise known as People Living With HIV (PLWH). The mission is to counter the misinformation and to present in a new light the realities about HIV/AIDS. “We are poised to present a positive and accurate image of PLWHAs and their ability to cope and continue to live normal lives. Through our programs, we hope to trigger responses of understanding, compassion, solidarity and support for HIV positive persons in Nigeria.”


The major program of his on-line magazine is to give voice and visibility to healthy individuals who actually have continued to live productive lives despite their diagnosis. The Editor-in-Chief quarreled with the penchant of mainstream media to feed on societal fear and prejudice by constantly displaying only ghastly images and stereotypes and nothing to show the other side of the coin- HIV carriers who are healthy and productive and have remained so for many years.


Speaking further on the motivation for the project, Aborisade said he was disturbed by the fact that the war in Iraq was more important to Nigerian newspapers than HIV/AIDS. “Our papers devote pages after pages to movie stars yet they can’t find time to write about what is killing us. They don’t have time to research, to follow up on stories.


These are problems that have to be addressed if there’s going to be any change at all.”
Having been involved for many years in training of journalists on how to report HIV/AIDS and not getting the desired result, Aborisade has picked up the gauntlet to “do it the way it should be done.


We have decided to report HIV/AIDS ourselves. When they see it, it will inform and guide them. We will give them the information they lack. Most often, what you see in the media are pictures of AIDS patients looking like ghosts. People conclude that anyone with HIV will inevitably come to such ghastly end. But that is not true. We are here to provide contents to the media. If you want to talk to HIV/AIDS victims and you can’t find them, give us a call and we’ll arrange the interview. If you want pictures and materials on people living positively we’ll supply them to you.”


HIV/AIDS magazine in local languages
Reacting to fears on the reach of his on-line magazine, given the prevailing IT infrastructure in Nigeria, Aborisade reassured that 70 percent of Nigerians have access to the internet. “The internet is so popular very few people resort to letter writing these days. Even if you have never heard of our site, very soon you’ll get a mail from us, which is probably one of the contents of our site, you may decide to toward it to 100 people or more.”
In addition to his on-line magazine, Aborisade plans to target the rural populace with a hard copy magazine called Positive Living. He said Positively Living will be a quarterly magazine comprising key contents of his site in the past three months. “Packaged together in a magazine format, it will be circulated far and wide. So for people in the rural areas without access to the internet, positive living will be there for them. And by the grace of God, if we have the funding we plan to do the English edition, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa editions. What it basically means is translation. It will be a summary of the site and contains stories that touch the heart.”


Runs in the family
Presenting his profile to Saturday Sun, Steve Aborisade revealed that activism actually runs in his family. His elder brother, Femi Aborisade, is one of Nigeria’s early Marxists. “It is a kind of passion that we have. We all do what we believe in. I’m from Oyo State but grew up in Ondo State, Akure, I’m a graduate of Philosophy, have post-graduate diploma in Journalism.”


Aborisade said he owes his success so far to Dapo Olorunyomi, Country Director of Freedom House. “Without him this dream would just have died away, because I’ve had this dream for a long time. What Dapo has given me is more than money. He gave me the encouragement before he gave me a fully-equipped office with computers for use for one year. He is paying the rent. And before he returned to the US, when my friends who are positive come around, he always identified with them.”

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.