Opo is one of the coaches working with Egmont’s Kenyan partner organisation, VAP (Vijana Amani Pamoja) in Nairobi, helping young people gain life skills through football. Here he shares his inspiring story and why he wants to fight the stigma surrounding HIV & AIDS.
Today I have this chance of reflecting and celebrating the life of the best friend I have ever had, the person who has shaped how I have viewed life since I was a young boy. Even though I did not get the chance to enjoy his company into adulthood, the experiences I have had with him gave me a better understanding of what life is and how to relate to other people. These experiences, that I treasure so much, give me the extra energy that I need as a coach when I intervene and advocate for positive behaviour change among my friends and young people in my community.
Dave (not his real name) was a funny, energetic and playful friend. He was full of games and he loved football very much. During my school holidays, travelling upcountry was the only thing in my mind – and the star of the show was always Dave. Dave’s parents died when he was still a little boy. As I knew it then, they died from “the wrath of a strong wind” wiping out the entire village. After his parents died, he was put under the custody of his uncle and aunt.
Dave’s aunt was not kind to him. She used to beat him up for petty mistakes. I can’t forget the cries of pain when he was being beaten and he was always given very heavy jobs to do. Despite Dave being sick (we were told that we were not supposed to be too close to him or share our food with him) I never, at any time, saw his aunt take him to hospital or saw him take medicine. Even though Dave was performing well in school his relatives decided to take him out of school—this I never understood. Despite all this harsh treatment he was undergoing, Dave still found the strength to make jokes and have fun. He still could play football with us and score goals with his powerful left foot that always brought our goalpost down.
During one of my holiday visits, Dave’s health started to deteriorate; he became weak and was always coughing so much that he even strained to breathe. During this time, we were told not to be near him and when we were seen around him we were punished. I couldn’t understand why – Dave was our hero, our leader, our best friend. We only wanted to be in his company. Dave died a painful death and even though it didn’t mean much to many people, it was everything to us, his friends. Fun was no more, only memories of it.
To date, there is not one person who can convince me that it is the AIDS virus that killed Dave. Dave died as a result of the treatment he was subjected to by the people who were responsible for taking care of him – the society. If only we would all have shown real love to him, Dave would have lived long enough to see Brazil lift another World Cup. Rivaldo, his favorite player, was in the 2002 squad. What a joy that would have been for him.
We need not stigmatise our own people living with HIV: we are part of them, they are part of us and we can never live apart. Some are born with the virus, some cannot escape its clutches, and the rest only need to make one misguided choice and we could also be infected. Though Dave was infected with HIV, I have been affected by it up to today as I have lost one of my best friends. We all die eventually and it doesn’t matter whether you are HIV positive or not. We all have dreams to achieve, we all want to reach our full potential, we all need to be appreciated as we are and we need to care for people living with HIV because it is in our human nature to care for each other. We can do it. We have the power to do so. It is within our reach.
Dedicated to my friends and our people living with HIV & AIDS.