The Stories behind the paintings

Each painting from this years World Aids Exhbit is a story of a woman's life




My name is Lorna I am 23 years old. When I am three mum dies. Everyone is saying that the reason for her death is ‘chira’ (a curse). I start becoming sick. I am on and off hospital. My dad keeps giving me herbal medicines I don’t understand. He insists that if I have to be healthy I have to take them. Dad dies. He has been sick for one and a half years. I become sick again. Everyone is criticizing my condition. In my third year in high school. I have developed a fungal infection on my face. My aunt takes me to hospital and I am given thorough medical examination. I test HIV positive and immediately put on treatment. I have a CD4 count of 30. I complete my secondary school education and move in with my sister. She makes me work for her in the house as a domestic help. Sometimes I am not allowed to go for my medication in time because I have to run her errands. My immune system starts going down and I have a herpes attack. I am taken to hospital for treatment. I finally secure a job as an untrained teacher. I need to go to college so I work for a whole year, saving all my earnings and I secure a place in college but I have to drop out because I can no longer pay the school fees. I know I can only get the good life I long for if I have post secondary school training. I am still seeking support on this because I am one person who believes that regardless of my HIV status, I can still make it in life …. If only I get support.


My name is Becky I am 22 years old. I grow up receiving so much attention from both my parents. My parents take me to the best schools around. I complete my primary education successfully and proceed to secondary school. This day I visit my friends. I stay longer than usual. I get home late. Mum insists that I have to get water from the river. It is late but mum is not joking. Because of fear, I have to go to the river. It is 7.30pm and dark already. On my way home, I meet these three men I cannot see clearly, they attack and gang rape me. I am injured and my parents take me to hospital. I receive post rape care and am sent back home. It is one year since the traumatizing experience of rape. I don’t feel well. I feel weak, tired and sickly. The matron in school thinks I am pregnant but I am not. I am back for my December holidays. I am still sickly. I take courage to go for voluntary counseling and testing after reading magazines about other ladies who went through the same ordeal as mine. The counselor tests me and he tells me I am HIV positive. I become unconscious for 4 hours and when I get conscious I feel really terrible. My parents are very supportive. I join support groups and I am started on the life saving drugs.
I am glad I know my status because with the support I get from my parents and support group Lean on me I can live positively and achieve my life’s goals.


​My name is Elizabeth I am 33. I am born to a very poor family. Father keeps coming home drunk and beating my mother, he beats us too. One night my father nearly kills mother and I vow I will never forgive him. I have to do odd jobs to help mother.

I meet this man working in a law firm and we fall in love. I run away from home to stay with him. Five months later, I am pregnant. It is a difficult pregnancy because I have to treat sexually transmitted infections every now and then. I tell my husband and he tells me to go to hell. I am advised to take a HIV test. I am requested by the doctor to come with my husband who refuses. I take the test for the sake of my baby. I am told that I am HIV positive. I am shocked. I am lost, but I do not believe it. I take another test and it is still HIV positive. I know my life and my dreams have finally come to an end. My baby girl is born but marital life becomes unbearable. I go back home with Nicole. I finally tell mum about my HIV status. Nicole is approaching her 6th year and she is not HIV infected. I am glad I did not take my life. I would not have had a chance to share my story. It is unfortunate that I have just tested positive for cancer. I hope I will be treated. I still continue running my small business but I have a dream. I know I will get support to grow my business and live a meaningful life… A life without violence.


I am born in a family of 3 children. We are living an average life and all is well until father dies when I am 12. Mum is struggling to care for us and becomes unwell. We cannot afford medication for her and she is getting worse. It is the first day of my final exams in primary school. Mum dies. I fail my exam but manage to re-sit and pass. My uncle promises to pay my school fees but he cannot. I drop out of school. I have nothing else to do. I join a group of friends and they introduce me to sex work. My life begins to change for worse. Two years later, I am not well. I keep feeling sick off and on. I am diagnosed with HIV. Some of my fellow sex workers tell me it is normal to have HIV if you are in this trade. I get encouragement from them and begin my medication I grow strong again. My brother encourages me to go back to school. He offers to pay and I complete my secondary education. I get a job at the facility where I take my ARV. I do filing. I use my earnings to enroll for a counseling course which I undertake successfully. I am however not able to pick my certificate because I have school fees arrears. I will use the knowledge gained to support youth to believe in themselves and stay free of HIV. 

I believe as young women with HIV we need love. We need to be accepted and to have families and children one day. 


My name is Savannah I am 19 years old. I am born to a loving and caring family. I am often sick as a child, at 11 I am sent to boarding school but I get sick and my grades suffer and I am sent home, here I go to day school. My parents are not in a good relationship. My mum is having an affair with her lecturer in order to get her masters. Dad is no better; he is having affairs with three other women besides mum. My parents are so engrossed in their own lives that they don’t realize they are hurting me. I feel lonely and am still sick.

I am taken back to hospital for check-up. I have persistent cough, the spots on my body are not getting any better. The doctor conducts examinations and then calls my mom into her office. Mum leaves doctor’s office really sad and unable to have an eye contact with me. We go back home in silence and later that night I am summoned to my parents’ bedroom. Both my parents start accusing me of having sex. I tell them I have not had sex with anyone. They ask me if I have ever been raped and I tell them I cannot remember such a thing happening to me. My mum later gives me some medication she calls immune boosters and tells me to take them for a while. In time it is revealed that my parents are HIV positive and so am I.

I am not to blame.


My name is Linet and I am 20 years old. Mother dies when I am 5 years old and is buried in her father’s land. I am left with my grandmother. My grandmother takes me to a local school where I begin my primary education. When I am nine I have to drop out of school to go and take care of my uncle’s wife who has just had a baby. I do housework and stay with my uncle and the wife. They always find a reason to beat me. My grandmother promises me that when my cousin is two years old and my uncle and the wife no longer need me I will go back to school, but another of my mum’s sisters delivers a baby and I go to her. Her husband is also violating me sexually.

Wen I am 13 I am taken back to my grandmother’s place. She still won’t let me go back to school so I run away from home to stay with friends. Life with friends is not easy for they ask me to do things I am unable to do. I don’t care that I am still underage. I get married to Ben who is a casual worker. Ben takes me to stay with his mother who insists I should go back home until I am old enough to get married. I stay on but it becomes difficult to stay with Ben and I go back home. I am expectant and I am HIV positive.

I still think I have a future for me and my baby.


My name is Betty Akinyi.  I live in Nyalenda Estate Kisumu.  I am 11 years old and also HIV  positive. My mother is a single mother who washes clothes for a living.  I like playing with my friends but when I am sick I am not able to play with them. Some of my friends don’t play with me when I have a rash in my body because they suspect it is HIV.  I have not told them and I don’t think I will because I don’t want to lose them.

I always look forward to going for group therapy sessions at Lean on Me foundation.  This is because I meet other young people like me who are HIV positive and they don’t seem to have trouble being close to me.  I told my mother that she should also join a support group of adults because being in the support group makes someone feel better and they are able to answer many questions and teach us about how to take care of our health.

I sometimes go with mum to wash clothes for people. It is not easy because sometimes she gets so many clothes to wash and they give her little money.  Sometimes she does not get any at all and we go back home without money for food.  I want to go to school and work very hard and become a teacher.  I will then build a big house for my mother and make sure she has everything she needs.



My name is Nelly.  I am 10 years old.  My sister Esther takes me with her to the hospital when we need to get our treatment. I don’t like taking medication but my mom tells me that if I don’t take it I will be sick and will not be able to go to school and play with my friends like I always do.

This year I went to school for only one term.  My sister Esther and I were sent home for school fees.  Esther stayed home for three months and later went back to school because my mom got money that was not enough for both of us.  She said big girls get attacked by bad boys when they stay home.  I did not go back to school and I felt very bad.  When I go back to school I want to learn to speak English very well so that I can be an advocate for children living with HIV like Elijah. When we went for our support group meeting at Lean on Me, we were shown a video of him telling leaders to support children and adolescents living with HIV and I was very proud of him. 

One day when I am able to speak the English language very well I will also lobby for support for children living with HIV. I see everyone speak to our leaders in English and Swahili.  I don’t know Swahili very well but when I do I will tell our leaders to find medicine that tastes better for children because the one they give us is very bitter. 



My name is Sharon.  I am 16 years old.  I live with my mom and my step dad.  My mum has 3 other children with my step dad.  He loves his children so much but doesn’t like me at all. When I was 10 I became so sick and my grandmother took me to hospital. I tested positive and was started on treatment.  My grandmother took care of me until I was 12.  She died after being sick for a while and after her burial my mom took me to stay with her. A week after staying at my mom’s house my step father raped me.  I told my mum about it. They had a big fight but it was agreed that the issue is not discussed out of the house and that it remains a family secret.  My mom took me for post rape care. After that time my step father developed very strong hatred for me. He refused to support me in any way.  My mum had to pay my school fees. Last year my mum lost her job. This year she asked my step dad to pay my fees and he told her he would do no such thing. In the last semester of the year the counselor from Lean on me managed to get some funds and paid part of the school fees arrears I had and I was allowed back in school. I hope they will continue paying my school fees because my step dad is putting so much pressure on my mum to marry me off.  I want to have education like other children.  I don’t want to be married off early because I know it is not the best thing for a girl child.


I was born in Seme Kombewa. Mum dies when I am still young and before we know dad dies too. Being the first born my two brothers and my sister look up to me for their future. I drop out of school and leave for Kisumu town to look for a job. I land in the hands of drug users. I start using drugs and working as a sex worker to get some money to raise my siblings. I am only 15 years old. One day we are in the club as usual waiting for clients. This lady comes asking us to take a HIV test. I think it is not necessary because I am not sick. I give all manner of excuses but she comes back. To get her off my back I agree to the HIV test. I test HIV positive. I decide to give up my trade, give away all my possessions because I know I am dying in a few days’ time. I don’t die but instead I get counseling and begin living a more meaningful life. I make a decision to go back to school. It is not easy because I have to share my meager earnings between my siblings and my school fees but I am determined to get this important thing – Education. I join an adult class. I am tired of being called a drug addict who is also a sex worker. I need a different title in my life. I have stopped using drugs and I know for me the sky is the limit. I am still a sex worker because I have to pay for my education, raise my child and also support my siblings but I know after graduating from school, I will earn a decent livelihood and stop sex work.


difficulties and successfully complete my primary education. In my third year in secondary school, my friend and I get into peer pressure and start having relationships. My friend drops out of school but I come back to my senses before I completely mess myself up. I successfully complete my secondary education. When I go back to school for my leaving certificate. I meet Rick. Rick and I fall in love and one day during the visits to his house I fall pregnant. Rick does not accept that I am pregnant and decides to end our relationship. I give birth in December 2004 to a bouncing baby boy and I vow never to be in a relationship again. Then I meet this handsome man and we fall in love. I forget my vow. Our relationship is getting serious and we have started speaking about getting married. My fiancé starts getting sick. It is in this hospital that I find out that this man has actually been on HIV medication for a while. Regardless of the counseling I have received… I cannot take a HIV test. After living a traumatized life, I decide to take a HIV test and it is positive. My relationship ends and I move in with my sister. I join a support group; it is a good feeling to be in a support group. It gives you the reassurance that you are not alone in this fight.
I have learned to cope with my HIV status.


My name is Patricia and I am 16. I am born in a family of four children. I have three brothers. Mum dies when I am 6 years old. Mum has been really sick. She lost a lot of weight and had burned skin around her waist and chest. I am later told this is known as herpes. I am HIV positive. I don’t know why I have this status yet my siblings both the ones that were born before me and those that were born after me do not have HIV. I still don’t understand where I got HIV because at the time of infection I was a child. I still don’t understand why it was me and not any of my siblings. At 10 I get herpes attack. My body is burning as if it is on fire. My dad has just married my stepmother and there is no-one to support me to deal with this. My step mother delivers a child who is infected with HIV. My step mother dies and immediately after dad marries another woman who also dies after a short while. My dad is now married again.

I am so scared of death. My teachers provide counseling for me in school and during the holidays I get counseling from my support group. I still am not sure how I got HIV infection or why it had to be me.

I pray that I will be able to complete my education and have a meaningful life like those who have done so ahead of me.


My name is Nicole and I am 18 years old. I am born as the second child in a family of four. I am the eldest daughter so I get a lot of love from my mother. I join primary school which I complete successfully. I am happy that I have good grades but sadly I cannot proceed to the secondary school of my choice because mum cannot afford it. I join a simple village school and in this first year in school I develop rashes all over my body. The matron gives me medication for the rash but one week later it only gets worse. The school head then releases me to go seek treatment from home. I go home safely and I am taken to hospital. It is here that I am examined and tested for HIV. I test HIV positive. The doctor gives me drugs but I am scared of carrying them to school because my friends may see and I will lose them. I go back to school and realize how much stigma there is. Those who are not HIV positive do not associate freely with those with HIV. I get counseling from my teacher and my parents but the stigma I face from fellow students makes me feel very lonely. I join a support group and get to meet others who are of the same status with me. I look healthy now and I can stand and talk freely about my HIV status.

Something should be done about stigma and lack of information both with teachers and pupils in schools.


My name is Pauline I am 23. Dad dies when I am seven years old. I move to stay with my aunt. I am unable to join high school because of lack of school fees and so I remain at home to support my aunt with housework. One day she sends me to my step brother’s house. I find him with his children his wife is not at home. We prepare dinner and after dinner I am told to sleep on the sofa. At midnight I find myself naked in this man’s bed. He tells me not to tell anyone or else he will kill me. I know nobody will believe me. I don’t even know whom to tell. I keep quiet but feel pain inside because of this ordeal. I blame myself for having slept too soundly. At 19 with no proper education and no job I feel it is better to get married. I meet this gentleman who promises to marry me.  I know he is cheating on me. I am quiet though because I don’t want to go back to the tough life at home. My fiancée is suffering from a very painful sexually transmitted infection and is blaming it on me. We get treatment but after he asks me to leave his life. I go back home and keep falling sick and the doctor advises that I know my status. I test HIV positive. I know one day I will be able to learn a skill and earn a livelihood so that people don’t look down upon me. I also know that I will find someone who will truly love me.
I dream of having a family a happy one and God willing I will.
I just don’t know where to start from.


My name is Acinta and today I am 33 years old. When I am in secondary school, I get news that my parents have perished in a road accident in Kampala where they went for business. I have 6 other siblings behind me; I have to drop out of school to take care of them. I start working in people’s houses to educate my siblings. The burden of supporting my siblings has become huge and I have settled for an early marriage. I get married and conceive a baby. When I go for my antenatal check-up, I am told that I am HIV positive. I am given enough counseling and I accept my status. I followed doctors’ instructions and gave birth to a HIV free child. I continue following doctors’ instructions and give birth to three other children all HIV negative. I get a job as a mentor mother in hospital. I still need to support my siblings who are still struggling. My siblings have all gone through school. I feel it is time I also went back, completed my education and get a better life so that I can raise my children well. My friends and I fall victims of circumstances because we cannot support ourselves financially. We also have the burden of care. I still believe women should be empowered because with very little resources we can do so much in the community. Organizations working with us should be funded to support us because they interact directly with us and know our needs.


My name is Mitchelle.  I am 13 years old. I live with my parents, they are both drunkards and most of the time they are drunk and I have to go and fetch them from the road side. Before I knew my HIV status I used to take my brother Bob to pick his ARVs. I started taking him to hospital from the time I was 8 because my parents would be too drunk.  When I was 10 I started getting sick and weak. I was not shocked I tested HIV positive because I was used to seeing my brother. I am the one who ensures he has taken his medication and that both of us have gone to school. My only fear is that I am soon completing my primary education and what next. My parents are nowadays being arrested for drunkenness and disorderliness and most of the time they don’t raise the little amounts of money asked for in school.  This year the teachers allowed me to go through with classes though Bob and I had school fees arrears.  I doubt next year they will let me.  I am so scared of dropping out of school.  Most of the girls who drop out of school are exposed to bad boys and get raped and pregnant.  If they suspect you have HIV and maybe they have been exposed to it through raping you they beat you up. My mum and dad need help.  I hear there are places where people who get drunk get therapy and stop drinking.  I think if they stop drinking they could take care of us better. School is a safe haven. 
I want to go to school.


My name is Angela.  I am 9 years old. My mum and I take medicine everyday but she is so sick, the medicine does not help her.   My mother used to buy me nice clothes and shoes until she became so sick. She only sleeps and cannot go to work anymore.  When grandmother makes food I take for her, sometimes she eats and sometimes she doesn’t.  Some people say she will die but I pray for her to get well and buy me nice things and cook for me good food again.  Since my mother became sick her friend who is our neighbor takes me to hospital to take my medicine and see the doctor.  The other day I was walking slowly because I had not had breakfast and she slapped me.  She said she was tired of taking me to hospital all the time.  I told the nurse that my mum’s friend likes beating me and she told me not to worry because she will tell counselors to come and take care of me and they will always be bringing me to hospital giving me food too.  I want to go to school like other children.  I want to get education and food.  I am told some schools give children food.  I want to wear shoes and school uniform.  When I grow up I don’t want to continue being poor.  I want to be able to work in a big office, live in a nice house and enjoy good things of life. 

I still pray for my mum and I hope that one day I will be able to go to school like other children and get new friends and play with them. 


My name is Gloria.  I am 19 years old.  I lost my mum when I was 7 years old.  She succumbed to AIDS and was left under the care of my grandmother.  When my mum died I used to go to school.  When I was 12 one of my aunty was blessed with a baby and did not have a  help to take care of the baby. My grandmother asked me to go and take care of my cousin.  That is when I dropped out of school. My stay with my aunt was not easy.  She took every opportunity to punish me.  When I was 15 she me out of her house.  I went back to my grandmother and after one month my uncle took me with the promise of taking me to school. I was excited only to reach his home and realize I had come to baby sit for them. At 16 I got pregnant and my uncle sent me from his home. I went to the father of my child but he was not ready for marriage yet.  He used to beat me up and leave me without food.  While going through violence living with him I met another man and moved in with him.  At 18, I conceived my second baby.  He has now sent me to live with his mum.  Life is so difficult in the village.  We hardly get enough to eat. I was  a bright student and I used to perform well in school.  I am also good in hairdressing and I trust that one day I will take a full course on hair dressing and earn a livelihood from it.  I am glad I am now in a support group and it makes me optimistic to see girls like me who had no hope get more meaningful lives.


My name is Lili.  I am 10 years old. I live in Kondele in Kisumu.  I am HIV positive.  I live with my mother who works at night.  I don’t know what work she does but she goes to work at night leaving me locked in the house.  I am on ARV treatment and it is very bitter.  When mum comes back in the morning I ask her to help me take the medicine but she is sometimes too tired to help me so I end up not taking the medication every day. When mum goes to work at night I sleep alone in the house. I used to be very scared initially but nowadays I pray and feel better before I sleep.  I keep listening to footsteps passing by the door because I know there are bad people out there who attack children.  When mum leaves I ensure I have locked the door properly. I stopped going to school when I was 7 years old because the teachers wanted me to pay some fees, buy school uniform, shoes and desk.  Mum could not afford these. So I stay at home while other children go to school and when they come back I go to play with them.  I hope one day I will also be able to go to school like them and get new clothes for Christmas.  I also hope one day my mum will sleep with me at night so that I don’t get scared.

I also hope that one day I will have school fees, school bag, books and uniform and a desk so that those teachers who sent me away can accept me back in school.


I am23 years old. I lost my mum when I was 3 and my dad when I was 4. I was brought up by my elder brother. I was always in and out of the hospital wards. That was basically my life. When I was 10, I was tested for HIV, the counselor said to me ‘God loves you so much Juliana, that is why today we have found the disease that has been so long with you and keeps taking you to wards - we can stop it so you can go to school every day.’ They told me there were drugs I could take every day of my life and I won’t have to go to hospital and I would not be sick anymore. So I decided if those drugs will help me and dry my wounds, no more TB, no more bronchitis and of course I will go to school, why not - I will take anything. That was my motivation.      

Today I have been trained in counseling and in early infant diagnosis, I work with other young people and children living with HIV, they see me as experienced and they want to know how I deal with it.  I am planning to continue my education and study social science.

I have struggle with discrimination, it is stupid but what people say in ignorance does hurt, if you can't accept me leave me alone, don't stigmatize me! 


My name is Loretta and I am 57 years old. I am the former president of the Liberian Women Empowerment Network. I was diagnosed positive in 2002.

I don't live with HIV. HIV lives with me. I control HIV.

To cope with HIV is to sustain yourself, do something with your hands to be able to feed yourself.  Like me, I have worked with my hands, sent my ‘croushes’ abroad and through that I have been able to build a house for myself. I have own home. Being HIV positive is not the end of the world. It is not a death sentence.

To hell with stigma and discrimination if I can sustain myself.  I was massively raped during the war; I think that is how I got infected. I have a daughter that I had before I got diagnosed. But she's negative.

I have friend to whom I will soon be getting married. He's negative. We manage beautifully.

We use condoms and we have beautiful sex. He loves me a whole lot.


The shock of finding out I was HIV-positive was immense, I have lost my own child and husband to the virus, so I decided to empower myself with knowledge on HIV/AIDS. I opted to keep my status a secret for fear of rejection from my friends. I read widely on the subject and became an expert. My mum was also propelling me to open up and help others to live positively like me but I was reluctant for a long time. First I informed all my distant relatives, close friends, then the community. I trained as an ambassador of hope, which I am today. I have managed to co-habit with the virus with the understanding that for both of us we each need to accommodate each other’s rights in harmony.      When I was infected with TB, I did not want to beg for money to feed myself. I taught myself beading and today I have a successful business selling my jewelry to shops in Nairobi. My latest business venture is making cooking baskets, these baskets are environmental and allow food to cook slowly while you are at work, it is going well.

My inspiration is the knowledge that the Almighty Father loves each one of us; so with this knowledge, HIV is the best thing that happened to me and I live an informed beautiful life.  Presently I help 3 HIV-positive children and find joy when I see them grow with good health.


I was born on 24th April, 1980 and I am the 7th born in a family of fourteen. My father died when I was 16 of AIDS. This was my darkest moment; my father was the bread winner of the family; he cared for my grandparents and almost everyone looked up to him. I wanted to complete my education but I now did not have any support. Just after writing my examinations I became pregnant and was forced to marry the man by my relatives. This man I married was HIV-positive. When baby was born he looked very healthy, but he died when he was a year old. I heard the nurses saying he was HIV-positive.  My husband later became sick. He developed TB and died from meningitis. I was 22.


But life goes on, I got formally tested and started treatment, I went back to school and started talking of HIV. I met a man whom I am now married to today; he is also HIV positive, we have been together for seven years now and have 2 children who are HIV negative. I am now working in a clinic as a peer educator and teach mother who to protect their babies from HIV – I too am saving lives; my dream is to become a nurse.



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