19-year-old Taliba Zainab and 20-year-old Charles Yangiro emerged the best and they were crowned “Queen” and “King” (2019/20) in the north
The regional audition search dubbed Miss and Mr. Y+ beauty pageant went to the Northern region on Saturday, attracting over 30 young people living with HIV, from different parts of the north.
The contest, organized by the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), was held in Moroto, widely acclaimed as the capital city of Uganda’s Northern region.
19-year-old Taliba Zainab and 20-year-old Charles Yangiro emerged the best and they were crowned “Queen” and “King” (2019/20) in the north. First, runners-up were Emmanuel Okitiki and Esther Komundu.
The judges said Zainab and Yangiro are exceptionally intelligent judging by the way they nailed questions including a few rocket-science ones. To say the least, contestants in other regions (central, western and eastern) should expect some really tight competition at the grand finale, come November.
Zainab is a S3 school dropout and an expert client working as a volunteer at Lira Referral Hospital. She traveled all the way from Lira, a total of eight hours, to Uganda’s land of jewels, Karamoja, to contest for the most coveted regional Miss Y+.
“You are an expert client, what does that mean?” a judge asked her. “This is a person living with HIV who has been empowered about HIV/AIDS issues, and is strictly adhering to treatment taking his drugs religiously,” she explained.
She added, “Someone who guides and helps others on how to live positively and cope with their HIV status. Positive living is a lifestyle that must be adopted by an HIV positive person, doing things like eating a balanced deity, condom use, networking, not smoking or using drugs, etc.”
She was prompted to test due to peer pressure, during her S3 vacation when her friends suggested that they go for an HIV test. She tested positive, and her conception about the dreaded disease changed thereafter. She no longer looked at an HIV positive diagnosis as being synonymous with a suspended death sentence, as she used to believe before.
She has since become a peer educator and goes around fighting for the rights of young people living with HIV. She was motivated to join the beauty contest because, as an advocate for her fellow youth, she wanted to inspire many young people who are living in denial. She intends to use her office as the queen of the north to give positive living lectures to her fellow youth, and also help them to fight stigma and discrimination which is a major hindrance to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“Knowing one’s status is the entry point to treatment. I am going to encourage people to test so that they know their HIV status, and I will lead those who test positive to health facilities for treatment and preach the importance of adherence,” she said.
Adding, “I am going to follow them in the community to see how they are coping. I will also follow up the non-suppressors. And for those who test negative, I will encourage them to stay negative.”
Yangiro, a resident of Moroto, is also a S2 school dropout. He is a church singer and he also sells second-hand clothes. Asked what she would do if the Ministry of Health gave her 10m, Yangiro said he would invest it in campaigns to promote zero discrimination.
He intends to be a voice for the youth in the northern and entire Uganda, to raise their concerns to the stakeholders who are involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He also wants to be a role model for young people.
“I have already been doing that in the community, educating and sensitizing fellow peers on HIV and the evils of stigma and discrimination, encouraging youth to come out and disclose their HIV status, because that is the only way to fight the scourge,” he said.
He said he would work together with the youth to bring one voice of advocacy towards stigma and discrimination, to go to places like markets and schools giving testimonies on how he has been able to live positively.
Nicholas Niwagaba, executive director, UNYPA, hailed the young people living with HIV for coming out boldly to contribute to the UNAIDS three Zeros (Zero new infections, Zero stigma and discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths), and also showing the world that people living with HIV are also normal and capable of doing anything like other people who are HIV negative.
Backed with its rich culture, mountainous terrain and balance between postmodernism and raw Karimojong tradition, Niwagaba says they couldn’t find a better place to isolate beauty and transitional ideas.
However, the biggest challenge lies in the traditional betrothal of young girls and low drive to test and treat HIV. The district data shows that some men here have never tested for HIV, yet keep taking on more wives from time to time.
These wives are sometimes young girls forced into marriages, and they can contract HIV without any knowledge, and they can barely stand up to their husbands. The HIV prevalence rate in the district stands at 1.3%, and it is significant especially among the female youth.
There is also inconsistency in condom use among HIV positive youths compared to HIV-negative youths. More HIV-positive females were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) than their male counterparts. All these are factors significantly associated with the HIV response, which prompted UNYPA to decide to host the competition in Karamoja.