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Repping for youth living with HIV

The Y+ beauty pageant, which started in 2014, targets youth living with HIV. The winners are required to use their position to help in the fight against the virus.
This year’s pageant took place at Sheraton Kampala Hotel under the theme, confronting HIV with bold steps. There were 16 contestants with the youngest being 15 years old and the oldest, 24 years.

Last Friday, Hilary Niwamanya, 22, and Vivian Nabanoba, 25, were crowned Mr and Miss Y+ 2018/19 at the Y+ beauty pageant which aims at celebrating and giving hope to young people living with HIV. Esther Oluka caught up with the two winners who shared their stories of positive living ahead of World Aids Day tomorrow

Hilary Niwamanya, graduate of a certificate in Computer Science
“Growing up, I was a normal child who hardly fell sick and I was not even taking any medication. I got to know I was positive a year before I sat my Primary Leaving Examinations at St. Kizito Primary School in Kasanga. After finding out, I remember suddenly losing weight, getting an itchy body rash and developing sunken eyes. I was taken to Mildmay Uganda, a non-government organisation that cares for people living with HIV. I was tested and my results came back positive. Having known that my mother was already HIV-positive, I was not very surprised. My father succumbed to the virus when I was very young. With continuous consoling from different staff at Mildmay, I slowly learnt to accept my condition and religiously adhere to medication.

The stigma still exists
The biggest challenge I have faced over the years is stigma. I will never forget a certain house help we had, who had a tendency of telling other people from the neighborhood that I was sick. In the end, they did not want to associate with me. My mother later relieved her of her duties. Despite the stigma, I have learnt to accept I am positive. It is this acceptance that pushed me to even participate in the beauty pageant. I am happy I won and hope to use the platform to sensitise communities about the disease.”

Vivian Nabanoba, 25, expert client at Alive Medical Services, Namuwongo
“I was born without HIV. My parents, however, were living with the virus. Sadly, my father succumbed to the disease in 2014 but my mother is still alive.
I got infected by my then boyfriend in 2012. Before then, I was accustomed to the habit of undergoing HIV tests and my results always came back negative.
During our intimate relationship, I would always encourage my boyfriend that we go and test together but he would always turn down my requests with all sorts of excuses. He would claim to be fine and that he feared to get pricked. Sometimes, he would tell me there was no way he was positive. I believed him.
One day I decided to go and test at a family friend’s clinic. He told me I was negative, but he did not give me any written results, so I was a little suspicious. The norm always is that the test is done and the written results are handed to you. One month later, my mother sat me down and told me that the family friend doctor had previously called her and broken the news that I was positive. He had only lied to me that I was negative as a way of protecting me.
I refused to believe my mother and went to do another confirmatory test. The results came back positive. When I told my boyfriend, who was four years older than me and working, , he just smiled. Later, he went around spreading false rumours that I had infected him. The relationship fizzled out.
I cried almost every night. I lived in denial. I started drinking heavily and smoking. The one thing I am glad I never did was sleep around infecting others. I did not want to bear that guilt that I infected another person.

Turning point
At the time the news was broken to me, I was in first year at Makerere University studying a Bachelor’s degree in library and information science. I dropped out of school because I did not find the need to continue with education if I was going to die.
Upon realising that my life was getting out of control, my mother encouraged me to start a new beginning. She encouraged me to apply for a new course at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi. I obliged and in 2013, I was enrolled for a Bachelors degree in Information Technology. The new university took my mind away from many things. I was able to make new friends, I even met another man who was very loving and supportive and we have a baby now. Both are negative. I have not yet graduated because the pregnancy and baby slowed down my studies. However, I was awarded a one year scholarship for winning the beauty pageant and I intend to use this grant to complete my studies next year.
Unlike the previous years, I have accepted my status. I am not shy to publicly say I am HIV-positive. It is why I even decided to participate in the pageant. As long as I adhere to my medication, I will be alright.”

What Mr and Miss Y+ is about
The Y+ beauty pageant, which started in 2014, targets youth living with HIV. The winners are required to use their position to help in the fight against the virus.
This year’s pageant took place at Sheraton Kampala Hotel under the theme, confronting HIV with bold steps. There were 16 contestants with the youngest being 15 years old and the oldest, 24 years.

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