The journey of resilience and faith of Wendy, a young woman from Aizawl, India
What can faith communities do to stop the spread of HIV and learn from people at the margins of our society?
India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world. It is home to 2.1 million HIV-positive people, as recorded by the National AIDS Control Organization in 2017. With science and research racing forward, it’s sad to see that we still have no vaccine or cure for HIV. In their absence, how, as people of faith, can we truly embrace people who are struggling daily?
Wendy, a 37-year-old woman from Aizawl, India, was detected with HIV in 2002.
She was brought up and groomed into the strong woman who she is today by her mother. Now, she has two little girls and instills courage in them. She is the Assistant Secretary of Mizoram Drug User Forum, a community network that works for the health and human rights of people who use drugs.
When asked about the experience and obstacles in her journey, she took a considerably long pause and sighed. Wendy’s life came to a standstill when she found out about her HIV status. However, with unceasing perseverance and resilience, she got over the trauma and shock, and started “living big”, as she likes to describe her journey.
“I got tested on 2nd December, 2002” she said, quoting the exact date. “I was so heartbroken and furious when the test result came out.” She further explained how stigmatization is so prevalent in our society and why shattering this intangible obstacle is so important. Discrimination spews and breeds, and she had to face it too. Church leaders were the first to judge Wendy, averting her from attending prayers and even visiting the Church for ten long years.
Wendy shared in a pained voice how her community and the residents of her neighborhood made her feel ostracized. They were neither inclusive nor accepting of her. She was excluded from Young Mizo Association, a voluntary organization, because of being HIV-positive. Due to the little information and knowledge, and the many misconceptions around HIV among people in Wendy’s community, she was perceived as a menace to the person in her surroundings, someone who could easily spread the virus to others.
“Life changed for me”
The terrible remarks and injustices Wendy had to endure pushed her into drugs. Using drugs gave Wendy comfort. However, after the birth of her younger daughter, she decided to quit. The driving force behind this positive action was her constant question, “What if my daughter asks me to take her to Church, show her the path? How am I going to reply to her?” She burst into a little laughter and said, “I was repenting.” Wendy is now working relentlessly for her community of people who use drugs and people living with HIV.
On being asked about how religious institutions can improve the experiences of a person living with HIV, she replied in the following way:
“Church leaders should develop a sensitivity, that’s the most important thing. They should be aware of how the infection spreads and it is contracted. Religious institution should support the livelihood of the community.”
When asked what drives her to keep going despite the hardships she experienced and might still experience:
“It is from taking care of others that I gain my strength. Taking care of a member of my community who was suffering and died planted a sense of responsibility in myself. It is by looking after the innumerable people of my community”. Wendy is steadfast in her decision and doesn’t care about the society condemning her in any way.
Her answer surely awakened our conscious.
Lastly “I wish we have our own HIV viral load testing machine in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, since the results come out in a week. Time has a cost for the critical patients.” This is her foremost dream for the community she has dedicated her live to.
Wendy is an epitome of strength. She shared about her journey with the greatest ease, being all smiles.
Subhi Dhupar (Regional Coordinator) and Khushi Kaul (Intern) at United Religions Initiative North India region. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.