INTERVIEW: AIDS activist Namutebi Elizabeth speaks out on why gov’t should allow peer educators to teach learners about protective sex

11 Mins read

Namutebi Ruth Elizabeth 28, is an architectural draftswoman born with HIV/AIDs. As the World celebrates the World AIDs Day today, Matooke Republic had a one on one interview with Namutebi about the challenges she faces, her love life ,her dream man  and how best the HIV/AIDS narrative can be changed.

Namutebi said her wish is for government and parliament to pass the national school policy that allows peer educators and activists to teach the learners about protective sex she adds that she would have a Uganda with a  high rate of sexually active teenagers  than having  an increasing high rate of teenage pregnancies alongside HIV/AIDS.

  1. Who is Ruth Elizabeth Namutebi?

            Namutebi Ruth Elizabeth is a 28 year old Ugandan by birth born on January 4, 1992. She is a full-time free lancing architectural draftswoman with a five year experience having attained a diploma in architecture.

As a seasoned Draftswoman, I am passionate about motivational speaking, mentoring young adults and HIV/AIDS advocacy driven by the need and desire to help people living with it under a non-profitable organization I founded called DARIA KAYITESI SAFE SPACE having been born HIV positive and endured stigma. I volunteer with Reach a Hand Uganda to spread sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information .

  • What keeps you going when you wake up in the morning?

            Knowing that I have a burning desire to fulfill my dreams and that I can’t afford to give my enemies the satisfaction of seeing me fail to become what they least expected I would turn into. Also knowing that I am going to be a mother one day and the world will in one way or another look up to me as a source of courage and empowerment gives me the motivation to better myself each day.

  • Have you ever had to face rejection due to your status? How did you handle it?

            YES! Rejection is one of those things that’s totally unavoidable for someone living with HIV/AIDS. Sometimes I have been rejected by my potential suitors who wanted to date me but when I disclosed my status they figured that running for their lives was best.

4. How did you find out you were HIV positive?

I joined St. Lawrence Secondary School-Namugongo Ssonde in 2006 at the age of 13yrs for my S.1 where I began swallowing septrin based on doctor’s instructions. I remember the school nurse always asking me why I was swallowing septrin each time I went to swallow it, it was school protocol to keep drugs with the nurse. After a while my body outgrew the septrin and I started falling sick constantly and terribly that one day I went straight from school to IMC-Kitgum road on drip, S.1 third term ended and we got holidays.

News of my status was broken to me by my Aunt during that holiday, that night it didn’t really affect my emotions then I began ARVs thereafter I missed out on first term of senior two because they were afraid of the side effects fortunately nothing happened. So I resumed studies at a new school nearby home called Muyenga High School for second term S.2 in 2007 and was academically behind meanwhile I was in and out of hospital for various illnesses.

5. For the past 28 years, Do you think the HIV narrative has changed? If yes how

            YES! The narrative has completely changed because in the beginning medics or experts hadn’t discovered that an HIV positive can bear HIV negative children which is the case today and also the fact that discordant couples (two opposite sexes with opposite HIV status) could exist without the other HIV negative partner contracting the illness. Today such discoveries have been made alongside the fact that religiously adhering to ARVs can help suppress the virus which reduces the spread of the virus.

6. And if it hasn’t changed. How do you wish for the narrative to change?

            What I would wish for is the Ugandan government and parliament to pass the national school policy so we the peer educators and activists can be allowed to openly educate young adults about the means of having protective sex which also helps reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies. I would advocate for Uganda to rather have a high rate of sexual active teenagers and have an increasing high rate of teenage pregnancies alongside HIV/AIDS.

7. What has been your turning point?

            My turning point was discovering the fact that various students and adults are going through way worse more than I have experienced and because of that I decided that I had to strengthen what I begun as a hobby which was advocacy to become stronger than ever before and because of that I started a non-government organization called DARIA KAYITESI SAFE SPACE to figure out a more organized and appropriate manner to help people since the demand for help was becoming overwhelming.

8. How was your school life like?

At the age of 14yrs I was already mentally struggling with all this and because of that I began seeking acceptance, anyone I could open up to, share my pain and find consolation. I got a female classmate to whom I confided in but before the day could end she had told a friend and a friend had told a friend. And that’s how my days of stigma begun. I was the talk of the entire school with fellow students not only pointing fingers at me but also stigmatizing me, it was the loneliest place to be, isolation kicked in. I was very unhappy and sad. Making matters worse there was this biology teacher who each time he taught about genetics and how HIV was one of the illnesses that are passed on genetically causing me discomfort. I hated his classes then begun dodging them. As a matter of fact biology was my worst performed subject on my senior four result slip. I felt small in school and out of place, I remember wanting to be alone all the time because it felt like everyone didn’t like me or that they were just doing me a favor or they felt pity for me which led me to start missing school deliberately, dodge exams and pretend am sick just so I could stay home where my mind felt at peace. I desperately needed someone, anyone old enough or a relative to talk to me about this enigma called HIV but I waited in vain. I had no option but to walk through this alone.

Months passed by and I was still going through this immense depression until I released that everything I was going through wouldn’t matter several years later. I paused questions to myself, wondering if I gave up now and decided to quit then who would be there for my sister, I had to set an example for her, I was so extremely afraid of disappointing my family, I lived in fear of disappointing them. That’s when I realized that none of the students who were stigmatizing me at school would be there for me in the future in case I failed to make it. None of them would care if I made it in life or not. I asked myself, “would all this matter in years to come?”

So I learnt to fight for myself mentally, to pray and fast since this was a Christian school. I began to focus on books, I stopped hanging out with friends that weren’t adding value to me then I directed all that energy to academics since our finals were also a year away.The few friends I had noticed that I had distanced myself.

9. What’s your advice to the people dealing with stigma because of their status

            My advice is that there are some incidents that happen in our lives, they break us, deform us but they mould us into the best version of us and same thing happened to me. I questioned my existence, that why am I even alive?

People think that they will not be accepted by others because we in the world of perfect people are imperfects. Live your life fully, Accept yourself the way you are.

Be kind to yourself and only then can you be kind to others. Love yourself and spread that love. Life will be hard, there will be humps, trails but that will only make you stronger. When you accept yourself the way you are, the world recognizes you. It all starts from within. Things and people who are meant to be with you shall be with you so stop crying about the things and people you have lost.

10. Did you ever contemplate suicide at any one time in life? If yes how did you get past that?

            YES! I not only actually overdosed with over 90 pills and recovered from it but I also at one point struggled with a weakness or an addiction to sleeping pills because for me I felt like I wanted my mind to shut down or become unconscious and stop thinking about the psychological pain and trauma I was going through.

11. What does the AIDs day mean to you?

            Commemorating World AIDS Days signifies to me the fact that we the people living with HIV have overcome and are still overcoming the stigma, discrimination and finger-pointing that came along with it. It signifies that we are on the road to discovering not only a cure and vaccine but also creating a world that is HIV free which we can’t stop dreaming of. It also signifies the fact that the world has normalized the talk of HIV/AIDS where people openly disclose their status and the public accepts them.

12. What’s been your greatest accomplish?

            My greatest accomplishment has been meeting my mentors Mr and Mrs Andrew Bugembe who happen to be the founders of The Mentorship Class which is a 6months program of mentoring young adults into better future leaders. Before I met the Bugembe’s I was a confused young fellow, I had way too many dreams but no idea about how to execute them, I was desperate for guidance, I needed someone to help me show me the way and that’s what exactly the mentorship class did for me. When the Bugembe’s decided to take me on, they offered me a scholarship and look how far I have come in a space of just 6months after graduating from the program. With their guidance, I have managed to start an NGO and two other businesses, however one of the greatest lessons I have learnt from the mentorship class is social networking alongside personal branding. I have mastered the art of marketing myself and my businesses to attract the right kind of people into my life.

13. What are your dreams?

            One of my greatest dreams is to meet former President Barack Obama come rain come sunshine. He really inspires me to become the best version of myself and leave behind a great legacy just like Prof. Maggie Kigozi and Mrs. Winnie Byanyima.

  • Attain my degree in architecture and become the best recognized female architect in uganda
  • Train and Intern with the African Design Center in Kigali Rwanda
  • Become an influential public and motivational speaker (Leave a strong legacy behind, I want to be known for helping people living with HIV, as an influential, inspirational and motivating woman)
  • To participate and deliver a TEDx talk
  • To get married in Paris-France then have two children and adopt more
  • Run an NGO for HIV/AIDS
  • Travel around the world in emirates first-class purposely to tour and change lives
  • To volunteer with as many organizations
  • Write an autobiography about my life’s story
  • Build and own a mansion on a an arce of land
  • Own a pine tree plantation, Start a brick factory and Invest in real estate
  • Run an animal husbandry farm
  • Tour my favorite building in Singapore called Marina Bar Sands Hotel

14. Has your status in any way hindered you from achieving your dreams

Living an HIV positive life no longer affects me like before, today I feel more comfortable in my own skin unlike the old days where I couldn’t even openly talk about it. I have mastered the art of taking care of myself and what I have to do to live a healthy life.

The only challenge I faced in 2017-2018 was when I was trying to apply for scholarships out of Africa and some countries weren’t receptive based on my HIV status. First we would share my academic results with the university administration and once they accepted them then the next question would be whether the embassy would accept my medicals.

15. What’s your dream man like?

            I dream of an intelligent, smart and intellectual husband, someone who is a go getter, aggressive when it comes to achieving goals, a man who doesn’t take NO for an answer in that when the going gets tough, they man up to fight back. I dream of a man who has their emotions in check and are business oriented, someone who isn’t emotionally bankrupt because I am not a rehabilitation center to mend broken men or poorly raised men. As a woman I am mentally strong, mentored, empowered and ambitious so if that man isn’t anything similar to me then he can’t command respect from me better yet lead me as his wife yet that’s how it should be. So basically I am not being heartless but rather I have become more aware of what I deserve and how I want to be treated.

16. What challenges do you face?

            Publically disclosing my HIV status has affected me in a way that shortly after being interviewed by some television stations than some old students came into my inbox throwing shade at me, As a matter of fact I had some claiming I wasn’t stigmatized and that I am lying which I found ironic because the same very students sent me apologies for the way they treated me.

One thing people forget is that stigma isn’t a tangible or physical item that you can touch it. However stigma can be felt and seen, so just because no one saw it happening to me doesn’t take away the fact that I was stigmatized by fellow students. Throughout school my skin scars had everyone talking at least that’s the one thing I can’t forget.

Despite my being outspoken I wasn’t going to complain about students stigmatizing me and besides what will they have done about it, the mere fact that I couldn’t openly discuss my status means I couldn’t express the stigma I was going through.

Another gentleman who at the time majored in water engineering made it a point to warn any opposite sex that dared to come closer to me to stay away, this is the same very gentleman who came to my social media comment section and said that I was sleeping around with every male friend I had. Sadly these are the old students who claim to be close friends with me yet I last heard from them while at school.

To this day my male friends are constantly quizzed whether or not they are sexually active with me. Society is so rotten, human kind would be them reaching out to me to know how I am fairing in life which isn’t the case. Whenever I post a photo of me with an opposite sex, someone goes into their messages requesting them to stay away. We forget that what goes around always comes around.

17. As a mouth piece for some people out there? What do you suggest can be done to better the lives of the people living with HIV/AIDS

            The ministry of health should provide more mental health institutions and services since this nation is faced with a high level of mentally impaired cases of patients that are HIV related. This can be most effective if in every region an institute is built for purposes of making mental health services accessible. Mental health is connected to HIV/AIDS in a way that when someone living positively finally mentally accepts their HIV status, that means they will agree to swallowing and adhering to their medication (ARVs) religiously which will help boost their immunity and suppress the virus which reduces the rate of its spread however if they have not mentally accepted their status it burdens the Ministry of health’s budget in a way that the government spends more on treating various HIV related illness caused by low immunity alongside the spread of HIV yet if confronted heads-on all would be well.

Source – Matooke Republic

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