My bossom friend, Cecilia Ofum and I have been friends for ages. We have a wonderful friendship that people around us use as a point of reference when it comes to arguing that women cannot have lasting relationships. Our case is different. We do have our arguments along the line, but we do not let any of these arguments get off hand. We have our secrets and share them with each other, without any fear. It was no wonder that she paid me a surprise early morning visit when she had to confide in someone. I call it surprise because she is not one to wake up early, not to talk of visiting someone so early. She did not have a phone, so she couldn't put a call through to inform me that she was visiting, at least, to make sure that I would be home as well. We get along very well, so we really didn't bother about that. We got talking about everything. Usually, nothing in particular. But something was bothering my friend and I couldn't even read between our conversations. She hardly lets her expression show. I only noticed her sober disposition when she called my attention to the fact that she had something serious to share with me. I gave her a listening ear, as usual. She disclosed to me that she had to make her husband go for HIV test when his prolonged sickness wouldn't stop. Medical results showed that he tested HIV positive and "So, I surrendered myself for test and I am positive, also", she said, crying. I held her hand and told her everything was alright. I knew that it was not going to be easy for her, knowing how bad people treat those living with HIV/AIDS in our localities. I asked her what she was going to do about her status and she said to me that she had thought of divorce but her Church leaders advised her not to do it. I told her that I agree with her church members who pleaded with her to forgive her husband. I made her see the point also that it may not necessarily have been the husband that infected her. It could have been the other way round. She understood my point.
I stood by her and first thing I did for her was to introduce her to my Cousin who was HIV positive and ran a Support Group that was assisting people living with HIV. Cecilia later became the Secretary of the Support Group. I would sometimes follow her to the meetings and try to suggest ways they could follow, that could possibly, lead them to getting attention and support from kind-hearted people, who in the actual sense, are helping people living positively from time to time.
Cecilia later formed her own Support Group but her husband refused to join them. He didn't want people to know his status. I pretended not to be aware of his status, even when Cecilia and I share information. So sad that immediately he got back on his feet, looking healthy, he left Cecilia who had stood by him all the while, for another woman, who only God knew her status then. We also wondered if the man disclosed his to ber. Anti-retroviral drugs are now everywhere in Nigeria but he would leave his Boki community to far away Calabar, to get his drugs. Reason being that people who know him, should not know that he is HIV positive. While he was shying away from programs that could offer him great chance to fight the fearful state and build him to truly stay positive and healthy, Cecilia was engaging in programmes that have built her capacities and courage to live positively.
I would also invite her to programmes that afforded her opportunity to meet and interact with more people frequently. At the slightest opportunity we see to use as an entry point for talking about HIV issues, we would grab and pave a way for Cecilia to inform and educate the public on how to prevent getting infected, and also, to live positively, if infected, and mostly, how to support the infected. We always hammered on the fact that everyone is affected because if you are not infected, you could know or have someone who is infected and as such, we made people to understand that the issue of HIV/AIDS is a social and global problem.
I have been lucky to be a member of the World Pulse. I have had problems that I would have loved shared and solved. It is so sad that my sisters couldn't see things my way. Each time I tried voicing out, I got got discouraged and more broken. I had marital problems, I had burning desire to work out ways that could make life better for women like me who were suffering domestic violence and discrimination in the home and the community. I tried to form women groups where we could look at our problems and work together to change our state, but nobody understood me. My social life was different from their way of reasoning and life. I was lonely and could mingle with the women in my locality. The reason being that, I had gone to school and outside our rural settlement and they haven't had this rare benefits.
I left the village and when the internet came, I began to fiddle with my computer, searching for training programmmes for women, and also, organizations offering free trainings and empowering women. The burning passion inside me led me to discovering two of these organizations-The World Pulse and Sweet Mother International. I went on trying to key into the two platforms. I organised some events that mobilized women to observe the World AIDS Day and even made a good story about the event. But I stopped at that when I saw what the World Pulse was offering to Sisters across the globe. I knew that this platform was what I had been looking for a long time ago. God opened my eyes to locate it and understand how women are benefiting from love from sisters across the globe. I organised meetings at the local level in order to let them know about the opportunities that abound in the World Pulse but women would demand money from me because they reasoned that I was getting money from somewhere or some groups were sponsoring me to do this. However, I persevered, using different strategies, just to get them know that now they can share their experiences, stories and wishes for the world to know. These meetings progressed into forming semi literate women and Grassroots Women leaders into the cohesive network that has progressed into what we know today, as, "Grassroots Women Journalists in Nigeria (GWJiN). I initiated this to project the wonderful Initiatives World Pulse is churning out continually to help women voice out. This initiative is built on the fact that women living in hard-to-reach information-poor impoverished communities do not have access to the World Pulse and cannot use the internet. So I began to mass mobilize interested women leaders to take interest in working to encourage women speak out by telling their stories and be heard. Cecilia's passion for changing the plight of women, especially, those living positively, earned her the position of State Coordinator of the Grassroots Women Journalists in Nigeria (GWJiN). To this effect, she has been involved in the activities I carry out. This exposure led her to becoming also, now, the state Coordinator of the Cross River Network of People living positively With HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPHWAN).
We can now successfully use the two platforms-Grassroots Women Journalists in Nigeria (GWJiN) and NEPHWAN, to reach out to women and mobilize them to share their experiences and stories that encourage them in every way On December 1st, last year, I led her to have a talk show at radio station, where she openly disclosed, her status, urging more people to be open on their general health conditions.
To celebrate the International Women's Day (IWD), we took World Pulse to Katchuan Irruan, a thickly populated community in Boki, where we have many women living with the HIV. Many of them are still dying in silence and do not yet know that there exist now, a law fighting stigma in all its ramifications. We used the International Women's Day Celebration as an entry point to get them integrated into the information-rich circle of the World Pulse.
Cecilia makes them feel comfortable with me in their midst, when she tells them how long we have been friends, sharing secrets and everything life can offer. She tells them that we have been friends for over 40 years and we have never quarrelled. None of us have ever leaked our secrets and as such, I was the only person she trusted and revealed her status, apart from her Church Leader. She goes deep into telling them how I have linked her to areas that opened her understanding on how to live positively. She gives me the opportunity to speak with them and by the time I round up my talk about what other women are doing across the globe in the World Pulse Sisterhood arrangements, all of them would feel relaxed, excited and willing to speak out. They impressively begin to indicate intetest to join our Group and get engaged in the "Empowerment Walk" that I initiated, to take, "One Woman, One Girl At A Time.
It could be recalled that the last year international women's day, my Empowerment Walk began with empowering Madam Martina Ejah, a poor Widow that I empowered with the locust beans that she sells and keeps her profit. So far, three women in the community of Esekwe Irruan, where Martina Ejah resides, have also benefited from our programs and have started their small business of selling the locust beans. The idea behind the locust beans business is to boost the economic status of women and also enrich household nutrition.
My friend, Cecilia was with me at the Benning of my Employment Walk and she is still with me.
We have increased the number of women willing to speak out for themselves and be heard globally.
We have plans to include the women living positively in the Empowerment Walk, where they would be empowered with "Nutrition Baskets" to be eaten as local delicacies and and sold to start their self-help businesses that would attract investors to the local markets.
When we all meet as Grassroots Women Journalists in Nigeria (GWJiN) the issue of who is HIV positive and who is not, would not arise, as we would be working as a wonderful family of the World Pulse, where sisters act as one, loving eachther, needing eachother. I remain grace to the World Pulse sisters for giving me/us hope in life and to the men who stood by us all through the programme, as we led them to Balance for Better.