I first met Juliana in June 2012 in Kisumu in Kenya. I remember her clearly jumping onto the bus and immediately radiating that warm and friendly smile of hers, she has an infectious laugh and I just could not help warming to her immediately. At 19 she brought with her all the freshness of youth.
We drove down to Homabay on a site visit and we had time to chat and for her to tell me her story. Julianna was born with HIV in 1992, she lost both her parents by the age of four and was lucky to still have her siblings. Her brother brought her up. At ten and very ill she was diagnosed with HIV and started treatment. The day I met her she was still on the first combination of medicines that included Stavudine. Throughout her teenage years Juliana struggled with her health and with school. Stigma and discrimination at school caused her misery that impacted her health. Juliana is strong and she decided very young that she would be an advocate for young people living with HIV. She has done so much already for children living with HIV and speaks out for those who don’t have a voice. As a teenager she would walk to different school and talk to young people and teachers and educate them on HIV and against stigma.
Stavudine is a nasty medicine that has highly toxicities, WHO no longer recommends it in the treatment of adults. Juliana and I talk of this and she agreed to go and see her doctor so that she could switch to a better medicine. Juliana did the switch but as with all treatment switches, the body takes a while to get used to the new compounds. Juliana had to stay home for a while and away from work. I helped Juliana with a small amount of money to get her back up on her feet and to work.
Sometimes something so small can change everything.
Juliana later moved to Nairobi and took up her job with NEPHAK where she works today while studying part time. Juliana has lots of plans for work but also in her private life with her boyfriend and friends. Today she is a role model, not just in Kenya but around the world. She attends many international events and talks out so that others understand. Juliana is an inspiration to and she is my partner on the ground for this initiative. When we met Catherine in Kibera in March 2014, she was able to capture her imagination with dreams of the future. Juliana also went to the school and paid Catherine’s school fees and bought workbooks with our funds from 'Painting for an education'.