The road to Kabiya village, in the eastern province of Zambia, is red and dusty. Tobacco fields stretch off in either direction. Christine Jere sits on the ground outside her mud-and-thatch hut in Kabiya and tells the story of how she nearly died of AIDS.
At 35 years of age, Christine already has three children and three grandchildren. She is a widow — her husband died more than twelve years ago. In 2002 Christine fell ill.
Over the next few years one symptom followed another as her health steadily declined: loss of appetite, unable to sleep, diarrhea, coughing. Her legs swelled up and, with the pain, she could barely walk. With no mobility, Christine, the main provider for her family, was unable to participate in that farming season which meant no food for the family.
Christine’s relatives watched with fear as her health collapsed. They tried all they could to convince her to seek testing and treatment, but Christine resisted. Then in 2006 an outsider came and tipped the balance. The outsider was Joshua Nonde, a caregiver in CARE’s Home-Based Care program.
Christine admits it was the independent advice and the support Joshua brought that finally gave her the courage to confront her illness. She went to the hospital where she was tested for and diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Christine was started on anti-retroviral drug treatments.
Recovery was a long, slow process. There were those in Kabiya who insisted the modern drugs would not work and urged Christine to give them up in favour of traditional medicine. Again, Joshua and the caregivers were there to give reassurance and support her through the treatments. When she was unable to pick up her medications herself, the caregivers got them for her. They helped Christine’s aunt prepare food for the family and clean the household.
By the end of 2007 Christine had regained weight, strength and mobility. Come the new planting season, she was able to help with the farming again. Seeing her improvement, Joshua invited her to join a newly-started CARE support group for people with HIV and AIDS. The group members help and encourage each other. They keep an eye on one another to ensure everyone is keeping up on their medications. Each member also makes regular donations into a group saving project. With the money they can provide financial support to group members who are struggling. Recently the group used their funds to cover the funeral costs for a member who had died. The members of Christine’s support group are also reaching out — going into their communities to find others who are sick who have not yet been found by CARE’s caregivers.
As for Christine herself, today she is doing better than ever. Her eyes light up with excitement as she talks about the next farming season. She’s growing her own vegetables and taking them to sell at the local military barracks. Christine Jere is now treasurer of her support group. She has become a leader among survivors and a role model to her community.