Repeatedly raped, infected with HIV and rejected by family and community, Anna Nakasi had to pick herself up and is now living positively and helping other women. She shared her story with Esther Namirimu.
My name is Anna Grace Nakasi and I am 52 years old. I had 15 children, but three of them were killed by rebels. I live in Tubur village, about 20km from Soroti town, where I am the chairperson of Achuna Ogolai Women’s group. We are a group of 45 women who are living positively with HIV.
I have been a victim of sexual violence several times. On the evening of Saturday, June 17, 1987, I was returning to Soroti town, Senior Quarters, where I lived. I met nine soldiers on patrol at about 7:00pm. They gang-raped me and abandoned me on the roadside when I fainted.
I was rescued and taken to hospital by other soldiers on patrol as one of them knew me. Another incident took place in July 1988, after my father and my three brothers in Serere were killed by rebels.
At around 5:00pm that evening, I went to the bus park in Soroti town to find out more about their death and prepare for their burial. But on my way, I met four soldiers who demanded to know where I was going. They did not seem to be interested in my explanations.
Two of them dragged me off the road and raped me. They left me under a mango tree until a Police patrol vehicle picked me up at around 1:00am and took me to hospital. I had another nasty incident in 1990 when six men gang-raped me. I was with my daughter and she too was raped.
Nakasi attending to some of her customers
The rape incidents and the killing of my son, my father and brother completely destabilised me and I was taken to Butabika Mental Hospital in Kampala.
Later, I was transferred back to Soroti psychosocial ward. I felt ashamed of myself and lost self-esteem, especially when I was confronted and insulted by my in-laws. People started calling me a dog. They wondered how I could be gang-raped and still talk about it. Even my husband rejected me. He said he regretted marrying me, and he believed I had bad omen.
KNOWING MY HIV STATUS
Between 1991 and 1995, when I was slowly recovering from the trauma, I started falling sick frequently. I got recurrent fever, which persisted until 2001, when I became very weak.
My illness was aggravated by the anxieties I had about the many rape incidents, deaths in the family and the rejection by my family and community.
The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) was not operating in our area then. I visited Soroti Hospital, where I was diagnosed with syphilis and given treatment.
When I became very sick in 2003, I did an HIV/AIDS test at Turbur Primary School, where I learnt that I was HIV-negative. I went to Mbale Hospital for another check-up, where I was also found to be HIVnegative. This kept puzzling me as my health continued to deteriorate.
I tested again when health workers returned to Turbur Primary School and this time I found I was HIV-positive.
During counselling, I assured the counsellors that I was relieved because it was better to know my status than suffer with an unknown illness. I was determined to live, since I knew that HIV/AIDS could be managed with ARVs.
After two days, I sat down my husband and told him that I had tested HIV-positive. This resulted in a huge quarrel. He called me all sorts of names and blamed me for bringing HIV/AIDS to kill him. From that point, I was rejected by everyone.
AGONY OF REJECTION
I did not know what to do or where to go. My in-laws had rejected me and I could not go back to my parents’ home since my father and brothers had been killed. My in-laws wanted to take away my children, arguing that I would infect them deliberately. I knew that if they took my children, I would simply die as I would not have anyone
by my side.
Having been thrown out of my marital home, I started to live in a dug up anthill near the compound. My children were prevented from interacting with me. Imagine, one of my sons was tied up with ropes to stop him from coming to me.
During that time, I wished I could die. I had no food, I was out in the cold and it would rain on me. People referred to me as a permissive woman who got infected with HIV. But I was aware of the circumstances surrounding my infection and I was determined to fight on.
The situation was so bad that in September 2003, when Relief Fund brought maize fl our and beans to Tubur Centre for victims of the strong famine that had hit the area, my name was left out from the beneficiaries’ list.
People got rations of 30- 50kgs of maize fl our, but I got nothing. I would wait in the queue like the rest, but my name would never be called.
Eventually, a local council official who was involved in food distribution directly told me not to expect anything. He said they could not waste food on an infected person, when the healthy ones had not got. “Who can give you our food when you are
going to die very soon? Be contented and go back to your house to wait for your funeral,” he said.
I lost hope because I realised with bitterness that I had been declared dead when I was still alive. I remained at the mercy of one Mrs. Arupo, a sympathetic health worker who continued to bring me ARVs every month from Soroti Hospital. She counselled me about how to look after my health and to ignore the insults.
In 2007, I suffered from continuous bleeding from my private parts. A gentleman called Ambrose from World Vision heard about my case and took me to Kumi Hospital, where I was operated on and my uterus was removed. When I recovered, I went back home only to find a gathering of people waiting for my dead body.
TURNING MY LIFE AROUND...
My life started to change when I got a chance to counsel someone else. One day, some people requested me to counsel a lady from Achuna village, who was very sick with a disease that had symptoms like those of HIV/AIDS. I spoke to her about living positively and where she could go to get appropriate medication.
She then agreed to have an HIV test at Soroti Hospital and she was found to be HIV-positive. She was later taken to Teso AIDS Programme (TAP) offices for medical treatment. This lady gave me another reason to fight for my life because I now had someone to talk and listen to.
We started our group of two, where each of us had to save sh500 per week. On alternate Saturdays, one person would get the amount accumulated to buy a few things like sugar, soap and salt. Soon, three ladies joined us and in this way, we created a village bank.
IDENTIFIED AND SUPPORTED
Through our small activities, we were identified by a group called Teso Women’s Peace Activist (TEWPA). They organised empowerment seminars, which helped us to start to value ourselves and also gain respect from the community.
TEWPA introduced us to Isis-WICCE and Urgent Action Fund - Africa; opening for us an opportunity for funding, which has empowered us in setting up income generating projects for self-sustenance.
There have been great changes in our lives since then. The projects have enabled us to rent office space, where we meet for counselling sessions and encourage each other. We purchased a radio and listen to what is happening around the country. When we received the money, we decided to buy musical instruments and drama costumes, which we use to sensitise the community about HIV/ AIDS.
We were also able to buy 23 cows. We gave every two women members one cow and they are supposed to give the first calf to their colleague. As a group, we also own 15 pigs and 100 chicken.
I started my personal business of making soap and peanut butter. I learnt soap-making from one of the seminars organised by Isis-WICCE. With capital of sh300,000, I can get a profit of sh40,000 every month.
Unfortunately, I cannot save anything since I have to eat a balanced diet. But I am working hard so that I can buy a piece of land and build my own house.