I wrote this article on November 29, 2012. It is an entry in UNICEF Jamaica’s #HashCon Blogger Advocacy Challenge.
PLEASE VOTE for my entry at http://jamaicablogawards.org/jm/everyday-courage-by-petcharys-blog/, This is the same website where you can also vote for my blog in its entirety in four categories: Best Lifestyle Blog, Best News/Current Affairs Blog, Best Jamaica -Focused Blog, and Best Writing in a Blog.
You can vote EVERY DAY. The competition closes on January 14, as do the Blog Awards votes.
I would greatly appreciate your support, You might also enjoy reading a post I wrote just before Christmas about an event where I met up with Keisha again and had the opportunity to hug her and her little girl. Keisha seemed focused, calm and happy. Her daughter was running around and having fun, like little girls do!
Here is the Christmas article: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/love-and-peace/
Thank you, again, for your support – and please stay tuned! Much more to follow!
Last month, around the time of National Heroes Day in Jamaica, I was turning the concept of “heroes” around in my head. I had some conversations with a few young Jamaicans in the social media. Two things occurred to me: firstly, that Jamaica seems to be badly in need of heroes. And secondly, that a hero is not someone who has simply done well in his/her field of influence. Winning elections, or selling millions of records, is praiseworthy; but not heroic.
I also do believe, in an old-fashioned way, that a hero must have the following qualities: strength, resilience, vision, determination, courage, seeking always to do better in his/her life. This spills over into the lives of others. He/she inspires others. And that inspiration may come from someone who, at some point, seemed weak, helpless, a victim of fate. The most unlikely hero or SHEro.
So where do we find our 21st century (s)heroes, here in Jamaica? Why, they are all around us, living among us.
Keisha* never saw herself as a SHEro. She still doesn’t. But I think she is.
Keisha is 24 years old. She has two children, a five-year-old daughter and a son aged two years old. She is HIV-positive. Her children are not.
Keisha loved the father of her youngest child; but he did not disclose his HIV status to her. After she was diagnosed in 2009, she was shocked, depressed, stressed - and very angry. She felt betrayed, and also broken-hearted; she loved her son’s father. The hurt was unbearable. Her hopes of a stable home life and a happy and loving relationship broke into small pieces, like shards of glass. “I neglected myself,” says Keisha. Why should she care? A young woman in her twenties has powerful dreams of the future. But her own future had disappeared – she could not imagine it. Depression, by the way, is twice as common among people living with HIV as it is in the general public.
Keisha stumbled through life.“I was like a walking zombie,” she says. And she told no one about her status. She did not even tell her mother, who could not understand the dramatic change in her daughter. “She wanted to send me to Bellevue,” Keisha says with a wry laugh. (Bellevue is Kingston‘s hospital for the mentally ill).
And still Keisha fought on, alone, without telling anyone her status. Then,the clinic she attended after the birth of her son in 2010 referred her to a Kingston-based non-governmental organisation called Eve for Life.
You will find many smiling faces on the pages of Eve for Life’s website. No sob stories. And this was the point in our story where Keisha’s life began to return to love - that little thing that seemed to have gone from her young life. Talking to Keisha, you are struck by a sense that this was the beginning of her spiritual transformation. It started with the need to disclose her status, and her preparing to do so. This was the first step. “They told us what to say, how to respond,” Keisha tells me. “We used role play for this.” With her mother, the revelation came in stages. “First of all, I told her my boyfriend ‘did something bad,’” she said. Her mother responded, “Did he hit you?” No, she said, but it was something very, very bad. In the end, she told her mother everything. She understood. “She has been very supportive up to this day,” says Keisha.
Keisha is not someone who goes to church every Sunday, but she does go. And she knows the power of forgiveness. She has forgiven her boyfriend. She still loves him, but she has let go. “Life does go on,” she says. Forgiving was a very important part of her healing. And it takes great courage to forgive, to release that bitterness.
And so, Keisha’s positive status has not condemned her to a life of despair; in fact, it has opened up possibilities that she never knew existed. Her diagnosis was “not the end of the world”; far from it. Attending an event at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston was an extraordinary experience for her. And so is her ongoing and growing involvement with Eve for Life. She is now a trainee facilitator and peer educator for newly diagnosed HIV-positive mothers. She is giving of herself to other young Jamaican women who are struggling to overcome her challenges. She is helping to lift them up out of that dark despair she herself once felt.
Keisha sees something now evolving from her weakness: it is strength, it is empowerment. “Everything happens for a reason… Down the line you will see a purpose,” she observes quietly. She now believes that her HIV status has turned her life around in the most unexpected way: “It has given me opportunities…The opportunity to help others.”
Now she is training for a diploma in Practical Nursing at the Garmex HEART Academy. She has two more tests this week. It is a challenge, but she is determined to see it through. She will graduate in 2014, and she has already obtained high marks in her core subject as well as in Language and Communications. The only tricky one is Mathematics, but she is confident she will pass that too. While she is studying, her mother looks after her children.
Keisha believes – she knows – she will be a better mother. She looks forward to her children growing up. She wants them to be anything they want to be – a doctor, a lawyer. She has hope, she has plans for them. A good education, university. “I will guide them,” she says. She will talk to them in a way that her mother never spoke to her – about relationships, about sex, about love, about life. She will hide nothing from them. She hopes to be a grandmother, one day. She giggles.
How does Keisha see her own future? “It gets better and better each day,” she says. She and her peer group at Eve for Life have their “ups and downs,” like any family. And they are family to her. They encourage and motivate each other, and help each other solve “everyday life problems.”
Because that is what it is all about. Heroism is not just about the limelight, the dramatic gesture, the applause, the awards. Our Jamaican SHEroes are here, with us. They are HIV positive; they get up and they carry on, every day.
And they are looking to the future, and to creating a stronger, more resilient, AIDS-free generation.
The future looks bright.
* not her real name
- Members of Eve for Life join their voices to a call for children’s rights during a Child Month demonstration in Kingston, Jamaica in May of this year.
This blog post is dedicated to little Hope Divine. She is four years old, she is feisty, she has loving adoptive parents, she is going to school.