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Living Positively: Vennila’s Story

Vennila, 29, is from a small village in Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Seven years ago, she found out she had HIV. Since then, she has learned to live “positively,” and with guidance from EngenderHealth, she has become a master trainer in HIV treatment education and counseling and a role model for her peers. Here, Vennila describes her journey…

In 2001, my husband became very sick. He was tested and found to be HIV-positive. The doctors asked me and my son to take the test too. I tested positive, but my son was negative. I did not know about HIV, and when they told me I had it, I thought it was some kind of blood group. But then during counseling, they explained HIV and what it does to the body—that is when I understood the reality of living with HIV. I was in complete shock, and even before I could understand the implications, my husband passed away. It only took two months. In that time of sadness, there was one comfort—that my son’s HIV status was negative.

My parents were educated, and they were aware of HIV and AIDS. Fortunately, they were very understanding. But after the death of my husband, my in-laws were not supportive. They were not willing to share property with me and my son. I took shelter in my parents’ home, and up to now they continue to support me. I have not seen my in-laws since.

For me, the biggest challenge was accepting my own HIV status. After my husband’s death, I thought there was no point in living. My son was my only hope and the only reason I had to continue to live. My mother, who is my biggest strength and support, motivated me to get better. She wanted me to be strong so that I could make my own living. I volunteered with a nongovernmental organization as an outreach worker, providing service for people living with HIV. In 2003, when I heard of a support group of people living with HIV, I joined them. This was a moving experience, I made friends with others who were HIV-positive, and I felt that I was not alone. Then I became part of the first consortium to help carry out the government’s treatment program. As I was a good speaker, they chose me to be a peer treatment counselor. 

In early 2006, I was trained by EngenderHealth as a “master trainer” in their workshop for counselors and social workers on antiretroviral treatment. I also took part in a follow-up training in 2007. The workshops were in my mother tongue, Tamil, which made it easier to understand and helped all of us participating to better support clients visiting our center. We learned to improve our counseling on antiretroviral treatment, adherence, side effects, resistance, and positive living. The follow-up session helped us understand opportunistic infections and treatment. The knowledge I gained from EngenderHealth’s trainings helps me give the best possible guidance to people living with HIV. They also made me address my own treatment adherence and helped me attain a better quality of life. Being a role model means that I should practice what I preach.

My aspirations are high; I am hopeful that one day I will see my son graduating from college—it is this aspiration that keeps me going. Living with HIV has given me confidence. I have been open about my HIV status and have even traveled abroad for conferences. Before becoming HIV-positive, I was a simple village woman—my house and my family were my boundaries, and nothing existed beyond them. My life with HIV has taught me to move beyond these boundaries. While taking care of my son, I am also able to help others who are HIV-positive to live healthy lives. 

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