“We Can Change Things As Men”
Manoj is 25 years old and HIV-positive. EngenderHealth helped him gain new insights about being a man. Now he counsels other men about taking responsibility and is forging his own path in life.
I learned that I was HIV-positive when I donated blood for a friend’s operation. At first I couldn’t talk to anyone. I wanted to kill myself. But at the hospital a counselor told me, “You have one chance to live this life, and you can live it as much as you want.” She took a great burden off of my heart. I later became a counselor with the Gujarat Network of Positive People (GSNP+) because I wanted to help others like she had helped me.
Through my experience as a counselor, I’ve learned the importance of working with men. A man can talk to his family and make a message clear to them because he is seen as the leader and the decision maker. And men need to know that they are not alone in the problems that they face. So when EngenderHealth partnered with the GSNP+ to bring their Men As Partners® (MAP) program to Gujarat last year, I was eager to participate.
I have attended several MAP trainings and workshops. They are conducted in a very understandable way, and the topics and examples are relevant to our everyday lives. It helped me to start thinking more carefully about my everyday behavior. For example, I used to automatically ask my sister to get me water. Why shouldn’t I be the one to bring her water?
The MAP trainings also make me a better counselor. I learned practical information about positive and healthy living that I can share with my clients. Now I find it easier to talk to men about sex and about how you can be a man without engaging in risky behaviors, like having multiple partners. I tell my male clients that it is our responsibility to wear condoms and prevent spreading the virus. Taking responsibility, that is an important lesson that I’ve learned from MAP. When I talk to my male clients about MAP, one of the first things I tell them is that as men we can help improve the health of our families, friends, and community, and that is why they should join the program.
The MAP program has also helped me to make important personal decisions. I have a girlfriend; she is also HIV-positive and a counselor. She is a widow and has a 6-year-old son. Before, I could not see a future for us because of society’s prejudice against widows and second marriages. But I learned that these ideas are simply creations of society, and I do not have to adhere to them. My girlfriend’s son is now my son, and we are hoping to get married. I am following my heart, thanks to MAP.
I also decided to tell my family that I am HIV-positive, after years of hiding it from them. Like many others who are living with HIV, I was afraid. Recently I invited them to a World AIDS Day MAP event, where I spoke about living with HIV. My family was crying, but I knew that it was because they were proud of me. My family is so supportive, and when they see me working passionately for something that I care about, that is enough for them.
Manoj (bottom right) is featured in an educational poster produced by the MAP program and its partners in India.