Clad in a blue Kitovu Mobile T-Shirt with HIV message reading: Tososola Mulwade wa kawuka translated as don’t discriminate HIV positive people, Hassan Ssempijja, welcomes us at his home in Kikalaala Village, Kyamuyimbwa Parish, home in Kabonera Sub -County, Masaka District.
We quickly tell him the purpose for our visit which is about capturing his success story of braving stigma, which had nearly ruined his life.
As professional counselors who value right to privacy, we first seek for his consent if he wishes the world to know his story and possibly inspire others.
“But I already put myself on Facebook as an HIV positive person, you think I can refuse because of stigma, yet it is your counselors who dislodged it in me?” Ssempijja asks us he laughs off, certainly wondering why we had to worry about this.
But seven years ago, this is the man who after knowing that he was HIV positive, death is what used to come to his mind as it occasionally happens to many people.
Falling sick and admitted at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital, his prophecy came close to reality. But as Ssempijja waited to meet his creator, he says counselors from Kitovu Mobile Aids Organisation became a stumbling block in his journey to meet God.
“I was already in self-denial and did not want anyone to talk to me. All I wanted was to die, but they (counselors )were just disturbing me with their counseling” he says
He says he abused the counselors, but they stood firm and insisted they had to talk to him, in vain. “However, as trained counselors, they changed tactics and I finally succumbed to their demands. We talked and finally took me to their health Centre” He reminisces
Through counseling, Mr. Ssempijja says he embraced positive living and defied stigma and later moved on with life. “I picked up slowly by slowly and now I am an agent of fighting stigma,” he says
And eight years down the road, he is now an agent of fighting stigma and offers psycho-social support among people living with HIV/ Aids.
The father of two, who is in a discordant relationship, is now an expert client of Kitovu Mobile Aids Organisation who is used to inspire fellow clients especially new ones about positive living after learning that it is the only way one can survive and live longer with the virus.
“My negative thinking about HIV nearly saw me lose my life. And that is why I’m indebted to counselors from Kitovu Mobile who got me at the verge of the grave.” He says.
A barber, who moonlights as a master of ceremonies, Ssempijja says he is never afraid of talking about HIV as he does his emceeing work.
“When attending ceremonies, I always remind people that despite being here celebrating, they should know that HIV is a killer and has no cure yet. I also tell them not to discriminate those who are HIV positive, ”he says
Besides braving stigma, Sempijja ensures that he feeds himself on a balanced diet to boost his immunity which lessons he has learned from Kitovu Mobile Aids Organisation.
He says he has small gardens of vegetables at the backyard of his home, an idea he learnt from Gorta .“We were taught the benefits of good nutrition practices and started growing foods. I learned that you can grow vegetables in a small space and use them to supplement the diet”
He says the coffee seedlings received from Gorta which had partnered with Kitovu Mobile to boost farming, is now a plantation where he gets money to sustain his life and family, as well as paying school fees for his son , currently in secondary school.
“I used the proceeds I get from coffee to open up a saloon which is worth Shs 2m,” He proudly shares wondering where he would have been if he had not received assistance from Kitovu Mobile counselors who found him at his deathbed at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital.
Sempijja says they are now challenged by dry spells and needs to start practicing irrigation. ‘
“I can do it on a small scale by irrigating my vegetable gardens, but when it comes to other crops, it becomes hard. If it is possible for the organization to help, then we shall be humbled,” Sempijja says.