Bringing Hope: "It's Like Magic"
My name is Sankari. I am 32 years old and am living with HIV. For several years I suffered in silence, but now, as a peer educator, I speak out and have the opportunity to give back to others the second chance at life that was given to me. My journey began 10 years ago, when my life was forever changed. My husband fell ill in 1998, so the doctors tested him for HIV. He was found to be positive. A week later, I learned I also had HIV. We were both shocked—we did not know much about HIV, and there was no counseling from the doctors. But we knew that our lives were at stake, and we felt completely alone.
For the first three years, we did not disclose our HIV status to family or friends, because we did not know how they would react. We were confused and afraid. We did not know where to go for information—seeking information on AIDS can give away your status. We finally had the courage to tell our families about our HIV status. But our fears came true—they did not support us, and we were forced out of my in-laws’ house.
By 2002, my husband’s condition was deteriorating. Fortunately, he was able to get antiretroviral treatment, which brought him back from near-death. It was the most challenging thing I had ever faced. But we quickly learned how powerful this treatment could be, and that people living with HIV can live longer.
I also was able to get treatment, but I needed support and guidance. I joined the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) and later became a peer educator. After participating in trainings conducted by EngenderHealth, I now counsel other people living with HIV on how to manage HIV and adhere to their treatments. I always find time to tell them that I am HIV-positive too, and I sometimes visit people at their homes to ensure that they feel safe. I have also trained other peer educators to provide counseling on HIV treatment.
After testing positive, one thing has changed—I appreciate my life better. I have a daughter, and today I dream for her to have a position that is far better than mine. I believe that life’s experiences make you stronger: I started off working as a candle maker and now I am a peer counselor. Each day I look forward to meeting people who are looking for information on HIV treatment, because I know how they feel—waiting for someone to take away their pain. I cannot explain the happiness I get in bringing a spark of hope to people who are living with HIV—it’s like magic.
EngenderHealth collaborates with local organizations to expand critical HIV and AIDS services, including HIV counseling and testing, care and treatment, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. In India, one of our key approaches is training and empowering people living with HIV to educate their peers. There, EngenderHealth established centers in states with high HIV prevalence where we are training more than 14,000 people living with HIV as community health workers and peer educators, reaching 100,000 people.
Sankari, an HIV peer educator in India.