A Powerful Journey of Self-Acceptance
When asked what her name means, *Ratna states with a shy smile that “it means a precious jewel”. She goes on to state that “often times people’s names reflect their qualities”. When asked how her name reflects her characteristics, she states after a thoughtful pause that “I have come to realize my value after being taught about it in Shalom”. Ratna is a thoughtful, confident, and a sensitive young adult who is 21 years old. Ratna recalls her early years as -having loads of fun and not having any cares in the world. However, her world turned upside down when soon after her parents were diagnosed with HIV, she also tested positive to HIV in 2013. She states that “all my desires, especially of marrying were completely shattered after my HIV diagnosis”.
After Ratna’s HIV diagnosis, her family noticed a huge difference in her. The once jolly young girl became quiet, fearful, angry, irritable, and easily influenced with what people thought of her. She states, “for 2 years I didn’t eat my ART medication”. It was only after a doctor from the government hospital talked to Ratna and told her, “Just because you are HIV positive does not mean that you will not find a man you like. There are several eligible men who are also HIV positive who you could possibly consider. Just take care of yourself”. This motivated Ratna to start taking her ART medications. At the same time, Ratna’s family was enrolled in Shalom’s Home Based Care program. Ratna began trusting Shalom after she saw her parents doing better because of Shalom’s constant care. She states with conviction and gratitude that “Shalom taught me how to live”.
Shalom saw Ratna’s potential and advocated for her to continue doing her schooling as she was on the verge of dropping out of school. She was enrolled into the educational assistance program where her monthly tuition fees are covered. Today, Ratna not only goes to school regularly, but she also gives tuitions to young children in her locality. Given the many questions and fears Ratna had around her HIV status, Ratna was enrolled into Shalom’s HIV positive children’s support group for fully disclosed HIV positive girls. Ratna states with a huge smile that “I desperately wait for the next support group meeting so that I can openly share with my peers all that is happening in my life”. The support group has given me friendships with lovely girls like *Saba who listen to me, understand me, and advise me with my best interest in mind. I really enjoy the support group”. Shalom sees amazing leadership potential in Ratna and hopes that one day Ratna will be a peer leader among adolescent girls enrolled in other HIV positive children’s support groups.
(Written by Persis Andrews – HIV Home Based Care Project Manager)