Name: James Okodi,
Age: 30 years
Location: King of Kids Primary School, Soroti
Contribution: Volunteers in HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns
Impact: Helped 10,000 people to test and 500 to access ARVs
Contact: +256 774 853615
AT 30 years, James Okodi, a teacher, has already faced the wrath of AIDS in his family. The disease claimed his brother and several other relatives, leaving behind a whole generation in misery. But one thing is for sure: The virus did not take away Okodiâ€™s will to save his community.
â€œThe loss of my brother inspired me to wage a war against the virus,â€ he says.
Today, Okodi traverses remote villages on the shores of Lake Kyoga sensitising residents about the disease.
â€œAIDS is still claiming our people because they lack knowledge. You cannot win a battle unless you have vital information about the enemy â€” his way of life, movements, strengths and weaknesses. Many of the AIDS campaigns are concentrated in towns,â€ Okodi says.
A native of Kelim village, Kyere, sub-county, a fishing community on the shores of Lake Kyoga in Soroti district, Okodi has, for long, seen his people live recklessly, engaging in casual sex in exchange for fish.
â€œPoverty and lack of information have fuelled the spread of HIV in my community. â€œInformation is power. When I go to the communities, I encourage people to test for HIV to know their status.
I also encourage them to start income-generating projects to fight poverty, although many of them lack capital,â€ Okodi adds.
Birth of the crusade
Okodi says he could not have started the AIDS awareness campaign had it not been for the loss of his brother, whom he fondly refers to as â€˜the pillar of the familyâ€™, to AIDS in 2000.
â€œHe supported the entire family â€” paying school fees for us and providing all our needs. His death was a big blow to the family,â€ Okodi says.
Okodiâ€™s brother left behind three children and a sick wife. â€œBringing the children up was very difficult since we had no money. Eventually, they all dropped out of school.â€
Amidst the trauma, Okodi realised that by empowering his family and the community, he could save more people from the disease.
â€œI initiated the idea of praying together as a family everyday after which we would share information on AIDS.
Although my brother did not confess that he had HIV, we knew, from his symptoms, that he had the disease. We shared this information during our family meetings.
â€œI learnt more about the disease and told my family how it is acquired, transmitted and prevented. I also encouraged them to have an HIV test,â€ he recalls.
Today, Okodi, who comes from a polygamous family of over 60 children, is happy that all his siblings have tested and taken life-saving measures.
â€œSome of them are married, while others are single. I tell the married ones to be faithful to their partners and the single to abstain from sex until marriage. Everyone is taking the message seriously,â€ Okodi says.
Last year, Okodi started sensitising the community. â€œThe rate of infection here is high. At least three out of every five people are infected. Others do not know their status,â€ he explains.
Through his campaign, at least over 200 people have tested for HIV. â€œI refer those who are infected to TASO for help,â€ he says.
Okodi says his campaign has had a big impact. â€œAt least there is behaviour change. Many fishermen now use condoms. The youth have also formed clubs where they share information and encourage one another to abstain,â€ he says.
Okodi has spearheaded the formation of five AIDS awareness clubs in King of Kids Primary School to disseminate information on HIV/AIDS.
He also facilitated the formation of seven other clubs in the community to promote faithfulness. About 1,300 residents have become peer educators.
Okodi says he has so far managed to encourage 10,000 people to test for HIV and 500 people to access treatment and counselling.
His gospel touched many
â€œI used to fear testing for HIV, but Okodi encouraged me, saying knowing my status would help change my life.
If you are negative, he said, you will strive to remain so, and if you are positive, you will avoid infecting others and seek treatment early enough.
Fortunately, the results turned out negative. I am now abstaining,â€ says Daniel Ojobira, 24, a teacher at King of Kids Primary School.
Joachim Oryokot, a Primary Five pupil of the same school is all praises for Okodi.
â€œVery few elders are willing to talk to us about AIDS, but our teacher, Okodi, does so. I now know there is no better way of preventing AIDS than abstaining,â€ he says.
At Serere Primary School, Moses Enyeru, 12, is HIV-positive, but says he would not be alive if Okodi had not encouraged his family to test for HIV.
â€œEverybody was falling sick but we did not know the cause of the sickness. They treated malaria in vain. One day Okodi encouraged my father to take all of us for an HIV test.
We all tested positive, but we were counselled and given treatment. Life is much better.
â€œWe are now engaged in spreading information about HIV. Everyone knows my status and they have come to accept me,â€ Enyeru says.
Born in Kelim village, Kyere sub-county, Okodi attended Kelim Primary School, before joining Erimu College for Oâ€™level. After completing Oâ€™level he joined a teachersâ€™ training college.
On completion, he was posted to King of Kids Primary School.
â€œTeaching allows me to interact with many people. The most vulnerable group are the young ones, but I believe with access to information, they can protect themselves,â€ he says.
Today, Okodiâ€™s main challenge is getting the youth to test for HIV. â€œWe donâ€™t have health facilities. Treatment is also a nightmare.â€
HIV hit my family so hard