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Meet Ann Njeri, 29, a Kenyan crusader against HIV/AIDS

Once again this column has connected me, and consequently you, with a profoundly inspiring woman, Ann Njeri, a 29-year-old HIV/AIDS awareness activist and advocate living in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ann and her older brother were brought up by their single mom at their grandmother’s house in the village of Kianjege East.

Ann’s journey into the world of HIV/AIDS began in Uganda when she lost both a friend and a relative to the disease. “I became concerned about the people affected and infected with HIV,” she said.

She began to volunteer as a counselor and then received a scholarship in Uganda to learn more about the field before returning to Kenya where she continued advocating awareness of the disease in schools and slums.

“I worked for three years and I was able to raise some money to register for my diploma in project management and community development,” Ann recalled. “It was really a hard decision to come back to Kenya and study but because I really felt I needed to achieve my goals, I came back and I was given a hand by my uncle and friends. I was able to clear my course, I later got a scholarship and I trained as a counselor since I wanted to help people solve their problems in all ways.”

“I feel complete when I am doing community work especially with those less fortunate,” stressed Ann. “I advocate for them since they are left out and their voices are not heard. When I work with young people especially doing HIV awareness, I get inspired. I like creating a movement of caring communities among youth that make responsible and informed choices with regard to life and HIV/AIDS through prevention, care, support and mitigation of socioeconomic impact.”

While this story clearly doesn’t delve deeply into the issue, I asked Ann about the attitudes toward gay men in Kenya, and she explained that they are “seen as immoral so they are not accepted and even the government is against gay marriage and everything associated with them. Other people see it as a curse.”

Ann explained that Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS face stigma and discrimination so few disclose their status. In addition, there are challenges with both the quality of and access to antiretroviral (ARV) medications, as well as difficulty reaching people to encourage them to accept their status and overcome the challenges they meet in life. “Mostly people have a lot of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, and this makes most people vulnerable,” stressed Ann.

These challenges are being met with HIV campaigns in all sectors of society, focused on encouraging people to know the facts about HIV/AIDS, and to teach people how to live with people living with HIV/AIDS. The attitudes in Kenya toward people living with HIV/AIDS are evolving. Ann explained, “It depends with individual and cultural beliefs…but I can admit that in our country people are changing their attitudes and perceptions.”

Thanks to people like Ann, such cultural shifts are occurring. She founded an organization called Help Eradicate Poverty and AIDS (HEPA) and works closely with friends “who share the same interest and passion so as to reduce HIV, improve the quality of life of those infected and affected, and mitigate the socioeconomic impact of the disease.”

“My focus is to contribute to the reduction of HIV transmission through HIV awareness and empowering people so they can get tested and know their status,” Ann said. “My vision is a world without HIV.”

She concluded profoundly, “It is self-esteem and passion that drives me to work closely with people. I don’t allow people to take away my happiness. I believe in myself and the potential I have in me to make a difference in people’s lives.”

To read the full story, click HERE.