Who is Barbara Kemigasa?
Barbara is an HIV activist using her story to inspire and give hope, a lady living positively, mother and one that is passionate about the youth. I am also the founder of Pill Power.
Where can you say your story began?
I like saying that I was born out of a dream since I was supposed to be aborted/terminated. I was born in Hoima and at just 6 years I was defiled by my uncles so I thought that sex was a game and therefore started having sexual relations with various partners. At 15 years, I got my first pregnancy which was terminated at 8 months, a decision made by my family.
How or when did you become an HIV/AIDs activist?
My story is a tool I have used to be part of other people’s story because it is all that I have. I have lived on the streets I got pregnant with my daughter. She was born negative but later contracted HIV because I had to breastfeed her to survive. That is when I started to share my story.
What are some of the means you have had to use to share your story?
There are times I would sit in a taxi with a loud irritating alarm set and when it rang, I would then pull out my bottle of ARVs, shake them loudly to draw more attention and then swallow them. Other times I would pretend to hold a conversation with someone on the phone and start sharing my story. Through this I got people asking for my contacts, asking me to share my story in their communities and in their churches. I also received a lot of encouragement and support.
It is then that I got to be hosted on different TV and radio shows. I got invited in churches and at school outreaches to speak. This is how the platform grew, I desperately wanted to share my story because I knew there was someone that needed to hear it.
What are some of the hurtful words people have called you?
There is a time I was using nail polish to write "I am HIV+" on my shirts and people called me a rotten avocado and threw all sorts of insults at me but I honestly did not care.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married to an HIV negative gentleman and a proud mother of two. My eldest daughter is now 12 years and is a passionate activist and through her songs she gets to educate people about HIV. She has also won her own awards which makes me a very happy mother. I look at every child living with HIV as my child.
Tell us about the products you make out of ARV pill bottles, why that idea?
I started recycling ARV pill bottles as a means to share my story because by sharing our stories we show people that it is not the end of the world, there is always hope. We want for people to trust God because they are not on earth by mistake or accident, you are not a mistake. The first thing I ever created from the ARV pill bottles was a bed for my second child who is negative; it was a symbol that I can overcome anything and that nothing is impossible
As an HIV/AIDs activist, what change do you wish to see?
I want to see zero new HIV infections.
Who inspires you or what is your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the things I have gone through. I have lived on the streets when all I needed was just a roof over my head, not food or clothes, just a roof. Remembering this I find myself sheltering children even when I don't have much, for as long as they have a roof over their head I know they will be fine. I have sheltered eight children between the ages of twelve to eighteen. Some of these children had nowhere to go and others were not wanted, so I took them in.
What fulfills you?
Making a difference in someone’s life for the better. I just keep telling God to use my life to create change in other people’s lives, that is what I want; to be available when I am needed.
What is your typical day like?
I do not have specific things that define my day, because as I said, I just want to be available when I am needed. Sometimes I get calls in the night of a parent asking me to help convince their child take medicine other times I will just put on my dress decorated with ARV pill bottles and go out to communities and sensitise people.
How do you fund these advocacy activities, what is your source of income?
Unfortunately I have not had funding for the past two years so I and my team just recycle and sell products made from the ARV pill bottles. We supplement this by selling second hand shoes.
What is your dream?
My dream is on a 50 acre land. I want to build the biggest HIV education center for other people to learn about HIV, to know that it is possible to have HIV and live well. A museum to exhibit souvenirs that tell our stories and a place for the youth to engage in various entrepreneurship activities.
So can you say you are on the journey to achieve your dream?
Yes. 10 years in the city have been a good experience, but I also know that my relocation to Hoima is a big step towards my dream, firstly because Hoima is home so I am more free there but I also have a starting point which is a small piece of land. I have also come to appreciate that the need in rural areas is not the same as that in the city, people in the rural areas need more help.
Do you need help achieving your dream?
Of course. I need the 50 acre piece of land, the aid to raise the structures, a team that has the same dream, capacity building to enable us run the organisation and various equipment like computers
What is your advice to a young dreamer out there?
Have your dream written and don't get tired of revising it. Find inspiration and motivation to help you keep chasing that dream.