Mary's Hopeful Road to Health and Economic Stability

Mary's Hopeful Road to Health and Economic Stability

Mary's 120 square foot house, purchased in 1992 (Mala Persaud/GHARP II)

Mary* was married at the young age of 13 in her hometown, Crabwood Creek, Region 6, Guyana. At age 15, after she gave birth to her first child, her husband deserted them. Mary was left to provide for herself and her child. She tried a few odd jobs, but they did not work out. In 1989, at age 15, she turned to commercial sex work. At this time, Mary had never heard of condoms and had never used one. Her earnings were adequate, as much as $300 some weeks. However, heeding the advice of many of her older friends, she chose to leave sex work in 1992, spent her savings on a 120 square feet house, and started fishing to support herself and son.

In 1994, Mary remarried, and a year later she adopted her sister’s child. In 2003, she became ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite the fact that her symptoms included hair and weight loss, skin, mouth and genital sores, and that she failed to get better with treatment, she dismissed any suggestions that she was HIV positive, as she and her husband had been living faithfully with each other for several years.

“I wanted to die because I was in so much pain. For two full years I suffered,” she said. Later that year, a doctor from Skeldon Hospital recommended that she and her husband be tested for HIV. They both tested positive and were put on antiretroviral treatment. She went home, gave away her belongings and prepared for death.

“Because I had AIDS, I stigmatized myself by not touching any member of my family. I often told my daughter that her mom had AIDS and was going to die. I had my own cup and plate placed separately from the other members of my family,” she said

Around this time, FACT, a USAID-funded NGO, began operations in Corriverton, near Mary’s hometown, and she and her husband began receiving care there. The staff demonstrated a high level of commitment to, and affection for, Mary and she felt accepted.

Mary's recently completed 660 square foot home (Mala Persaud/GHARP II)

In 2006, when she was feeling better, Mary was hired as a caregiver at FACT. At that time, she and her husband decided to adopt two more children. In 2009, she became a beneficiary of an economic strengthening program for persons living with HIV, through the USAID-funded, MSH-led Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Program Phase II (GHARP II), which provides technical assistance to FACT. This venture involved rearing “creole chicks”---which do not need special feed, can endure harsh weather conditions, produce eggs, and hatch new chicks in 21 days. The result was a huge success. Mary sells eggs, poultry, and chickens to persons who want to start their own businesses. This supplements her family’s income with at least $120 per month. Additionally, there are seasonal windfall opportunities. Last November, Mary supplied all the chicks for fifteen new beneficiaries of the USAID-funded economic enhancement program. She received $1,000, which enabled her to initiate the building of her now completed, 660 square feet home. She and her husband also vend household items around the community in the evenings and on weekends, which significantly adds to their income.

The programs at FACT have given Mary and her family unprecedented economic stability and her new home is now able to house her larger family. “I feel very happy and proud and though I am HIV positive, I can now help other persons. I am able to provide for three children and the future looks bright.”

*Not the real name of the person mentioned in this story.

Mala Persaud, M.A., is Health Systems Manager at the USAID-funded, Management Sciences for Health-led, Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction Program (GHARP II).