Jettina is a wonderful and inspiring young woman, a joy and inspiration to all of us at Vumilia. She is 23 years old now, mother of two children – 8 and 6 years old already. Her family was grievously poor. They live on a tiny piece of land, just ¼ acre, and her father still drinks heavily, but she has transformed their lives.

Jettina left primary school at 14 to work as a domestic help for a local family. A young man, a sugarcane loader, seduced her, fathered her two children and then abandoned her. Both she and the kids are HIV positive. When she sought refuge back at home her family shunned her. They believed HIV was an evil curse and could be transmitted by touch, or through the air. Her father paid local traditional healers and witchdoctors to cure her, to no avail, and he turned against her. Jettina’s case was brought to our attention in 2010, and Rose and Home Based Carer Rosemary went to visit her. They found her banished to the cowshed, weak and bereft of all hope, convinced she was dying, sleeping on a filthy mat on the mud floor. The family advised us not to go near her. They fed her by leaving some food in a bowl outside the cowshed. Her children were kept from her – the family did not know they were also HIV positive. Jettina had not washed for weeks and was infested with headlice. She explained there was no reason to clean up as her body would be rotting in the grave soon.

It took a little time to rehabilitate Jettina, but not too long. Rosemary would visit regularly – wash her, feed her, talk with her, counsel her. She was taken to Webuye hospital, put on ARVs and her health improved quickly. Her hope and will to live were restored. But at first we met vigorous resistance from her father. He protested that she was cursed, a burden and shame to the family, and by helping her Vumilia was only prolonging their problems. He spread rumours among his drinking buddies that Vumilia is making money out of people’s suffering and he demanded to be paid for Rosemary and others to be allowed to see Jettina. When we brought food for Jettina and her children he demanded that we feed the whole family – not just those who were doomed to die. At times we had to ask the village elder (the likuru) to help us intervene – and even he began to demand payment! But “Vumilia” means to persevere and persist, and eventually the old man’s attitude changed.

Once Jettina’s health and hope had been restored we gave her 4,000 shillings ($50/£33) to start a small business, buying sacks of maize wholesale and selling it by the kilo at the local market. Jettina threw herself into this enthusiastically and did very well. Three years after we found her lying on the floor in her own filth, Jettina is now a respected woman in the community – large and healthy, and earning money. She has built a small house for herself, paid for a new roof and improved her father’s house, bought clothes and shoes for everyone, pays school fees, cares for her children with no help from outside. She also organizes and speaks publicly about HIV/AIDS, the truth about it and how to cope with it and live positively.

Her father still drinks too much, but has transformed his views about Jettina and HIV and Vumilia. He is proud of his daughter, extolling her virtues – boasting that he has a teacher in the family, a community leader, a child who looks after him. He arranges for her to give talks at the drinking dens! He has rounded on the witchdoctors – calling them out as charlatans, demanding they pay him back all the money and chickens he gave them in the past! He sings the praises of Vumilia and Rosemary, and tells everyone that HIV is not a curse but an illness that can be treated. We are now always welcome at his place, where he never tires of telling us how pleased and happy he is now.

Jettina’s story, with the added value of her father’s enlightenment, reinforces Vumilia in our belief that nobody is beyond hope, ever. We have seen time and again that with proper medication, a healthy diet, emotional support, sound advice, offered with warmth and humanity, even apparently hopeless people can recover their self-esteem, rebuild hope for life and the future, and go on to achieve amazing things. We are thrilled and delighted for Jettina, and even more dedicated to continue with our HBC program, to find others who have hit rock bottom and help them to climb their way back up.