Born in Makindye, one of the divisions that make up Kampala, to a nuclear family, all was rosy for Ruth Namutebi Elizabeth until she was seven years when her mother passed on due to an illness she didn’t understand at the time.
Things took another turn.
Namutebi was taken on by her aunt who looked after her but shortly after joining secondary school, something unusual happened.
“Although all my life, I had been in and out of the hospital, this time in my senior one at St.Lawrence Ssonde, Namugogo, it was very severe. It got very sick that I was asked to start taking septrin but this never sounded a bell into my mind. It was normal,” she says.
“Eventually my body outgrew septrin and I had to start taking ARVs. I was told I was suffering from HIV/AIDS.”
She narrates that whereas it was something new to her, she was not affected because it didn’t make sense to her at the time.
“My brain had not absorbed it completely so I was not affected at all because it didn’t know what it meant.”
Namutebi says that as time went on, she started getting the meaning of being HIV/AIDS positive.
The 28-year old says that when she grew up, she realized what being positive of HIV/AIDS meant as it took a toll on her.
“As time went on, I began realizing the trouble I was in. I fell into depression. I started feeling lonely and all I knew was that I could not have a better life.”
Namutebi says that whereas at first, her fellow students never knew about her well-kept secret, the cat was later let out of the coat due to unusual circumstances.
Because she felt heavy-hearted with having such a secret, she at last confided into a very close friend about what she was going through.
“Shortly after informing her of my secret, she relayed it to other people in my class. What had been a secret for a long time became known to everyone at school. For three years (from S.2 to S.4) everyone knew my HIV status.”
“That period was so traumatizing that I ended up dodging school. Sometimes I would come to school and stop at the gate to return home or fear of being stigmatized. I dodged the exams.”
In the few days she attended class, Namutebi hated Biology lessons especially the topic about genetics since she was always cited as an example.
“Whenever the teacher talked about genetics and mentioned that it is the reason children get diseases from parents, children would turn to look at me. It always became uncomfortable for me.”
Namutebi decided to stop attending Biology lessons for she could cope with life which was hard on her.
Whereas all this happened, none of her guardians knew what the little girl was going through at school because she hid it from them.
The 28-year-old later realized it was her life and future at stake when she misses school and she decided to change for the best.
“I realized I had a future to live. The people pointing fingers at me were just naysayers that I had to avoid. It was my life and I had to fight for it. I started reading seriously and learned how to pray and fast.”
Namutebi needed to set an example for her young sister but also be a joy for her family.
At the end of the year, she performed well in the Uganda Certificate of Education with a second grade.
She would later join A-level where she did Physics, Economics, Mathematics, and Entrepreneurship to enable her to fulfill her dream of being an architect.
“I returned to the same school but wasn’t ready to face the same situation as before. I asked my father to have me transferred to another school but he refused. I had to talk to my grandmother who convinced dad to change his stance.”
After joining Kakungulu Memorial School in Kibuli, to Namutebi’s shock, her old boys and girls from her previous school joined earlier.
This added insult to injury as her anguishes exacerbated.
“It was a situation of jumping from the frying pan to direct fire. The people I was running away from at Muyenga High were now at Kakungulu Memorial. I realized there was nothing to do.”
To Namutebi, the journey from home to the school added onto her other problems and this saw her fail and repeat senior five.
In repeating the class, she performed very well and everything moved on well.
Boyfriend rejects her
During her senior five, Namutebi met a guy with whom they started dating after confiding in him the HIV status.
“We were ok and agreed to abstain throughout our relationship. However, my OBs and OGs who didn’t know that I had told him about my status asked him to stay away from me. He didn’t mind and stayed with me but when his family got to know about it, they frustrated our relationship. Finally, we broke up.”
Namutebi’s situation of being stigmatized never ceased but to add salt to injury, her sister fell sick and she had to always check on her at home.
“At the same time my aunt who used to take care of us was away and I was put in charge of the home. All this disorganized me in school.”
She says that because she was so stressed, there was a time tears could just roll down her cheeks whenever she could open a book to read.
“I had to look after my family, my sister was in the hospital, and everyone at school was stigmatizing me. All these problems came together.”
On verge of death
Namutebi says that during her senior six vacation while she worked with National Water and Sewerage Corporation, she fell sick and was on the verge of death.
“I developed ulcers and had wounds on my entire alimentary canal from the throat to the intestines. I could not eat anything. The best they could do was smash Irish potatoes or pumpkins for me to take,” she narrates.
“The doctor suggested that I get inserted with a tube to help e feed but I protested since it is one of the last things I had seen my mother go through shortly before her demise.”
Namutebi decided she could not afford to take the same route as her late mum but lucky enough, she got healed and was back to her feet.
The 28-year-old says that when UACE results were released, he scored only 12 points which were not good enough to enable her to do a degree.
“When I applied at Makerere and Kyambogo Universities and got rejected, I remembered an idea told to us during one of the career guidance lectures at school.”
She was later advised to apply to the Uganda Technical Colleges where she applied and was admitted but while there, she was again traumatized.
“There were some students who asked my friends to stay away from me. I felt fed up with life. I one time swallowed 90 pills to take away my life but I survived.”
After recovering, she could not speak to anyone apart from one close male friend.
“He would see me cry every night but I could not tell him the reason for fear of being stigmatized. “
Life after campus
After campus, Namutebi worked for several companies on internship and in 2015 decided to apply for the university to do upgrade to a degree.
“I applied at Makerere and Kyambogo but I was rejected because my senior six results were not good. I have applied to join the two universities on both scholarship and private sponsorship for the past three years but I have not succeeded.”
To enable her to fulfill her dream of becoming an architect, Namutebi says she has applied for international scholarships on several occasions but nothing has ever come through.
“I have injected in a lot of money to do international English tests but I have never gone through. Whenever I gave a shot at getting scholarships, I am told my academic credentials are fine and my marks are okay but could not take me on. They say they could assist me because I am HIV positive.”
“I have gone as far as checking out with various embassies and I have been rejected over the same aspect of my status. I got a well-wisher who took me to the University Nairobi where I was admitted but tuition of shs8 million was too high for.”
The 28-year-old has written to Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, First Lady Janet Museveni, State House, and Rotary International among other well-wishers but she has not been assisted.
Namutebi says whereas she has been rejected for over 20 years, she will continue with the battle to fulfill her dream to become an architect but also continuing to break the barrier of fear among HIV/ AIDS patients.