(UGANDA) On a veranda in front of her shop and home, with a shy smile on her face, Esther Adong proudly displays her merchandise and patiently waits for her clients to come and buy from her.

Esther is one of the 126 community members mobilized by St. Thomas Church Otwal to start a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) with support from the CRC churches from Calgary, Alberta, through World Renew’s partner, Partners in Hope. Esther belongs to a group of 40 members, and she is living with AIDS.

“I used to find it difficult to take care of my life,” Esther says. “Buying medicine like Septrin, getting counseling, and socializing with my neighbors was a problem until I met Doreen Ajok.”

Doreen is a village Home-based Care Provider trained by Diocese of Lango with financial support from World Renew’s Embrace AIDS program. Ajok started to visit Esther and to give them support and counsel them. She introduced Esther to VSLA, and Esther has never regretted joining the group!

Esther learned that healthy living with HIV is not just about taking drugs and keeping a healthy physical body: living healthy transcends to the souls and minds of both the individual and the entire community. It is about “positive” living, and it begins with people like Doreen Ajok, who stand up against stigma and reach out to help those who are in need.

The philosophy of positive living is about creating systems and structures that take good care and provide support people to living with HIV so that they can lead more meaningful, productive, and happier lives, and at the same time provide support for their partners who are not infected with HIV so that they remain HIV-free.

The VSLA group that Esther belongs to provides this kind of healthy support system and it has been a beckon of hope for many of its members.

As part of the VSLA, Esther borrowed 100,000 shillings (USD40) to expand her small business. She bought beans and sesame which she sold at a profit and paid off her loan. This year she has borrowed 50,000 shillings (USD20) and increased her sales. This time, Esther used her business profits to purchase two goats to raise.

In a proud voice, Esther says that she now has found hope and a purpose to live. She can afford to buy Septrin, take care of her household needs, and has faith that her business will grow. But above all, she celebrates her group’s weekly meetings.

During this time, group members share stories of encouragement and pray for one another, something that has strengthened her spiritually. With her group, Esther has found a place where she finds hope and a purpose to live and thrive!

Edward Okiror

Program Consultant
World Renew Uganda